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It’s been a difficult year for the reigning Super Bowl champions, but none of the coaches or players in Baltimore will have been content finishing the season with a mediocre record of 8-8, nor their inconsistent performances throughout the year. A loss in Week 17 to the Cincinnati Bengals ensured that the Ravens would miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the year Head Coach John Harbaugh was appointed, and quarterback Joe Flacco was drafted. Putting together back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl is never easy, but failure to make it beyond the Regular Season, even with the large turnover of playing personnel in Baltimore, has to be considered a disappointment for the Ravens.
Offensively, the Ravens have been at best average this season, and truly dismal at their worst. The departure of Anquan Boldin was always going to be a tough void to fill, but Dennis Pitta’s hip dislocation, which ruled him out for the majority of the season, exacerbated the problem. Wide receiver Torrey Smith enjoyed a productive year, and showed he has the potential to be a genuine number one receiver, but with the running game and offensive line ailing, it wasn’t enough to breathe life into a misfiring offense. Both factors played into a down year for Flacco (who threw 19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, and 3,912 yards), but at times the quarterback’s decision making seemed to have regressed significantly from his triumphant Super Bowl run in the previous season, and he frequently lacked chemistry with a receiving corps shorn of Boldin and Pitta.
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Inconsistencies from Flacco, and injuries to Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce may have severely impacted Baltimore’s offense, but the problem was clearly rooted in the struggles of the offensive line. Former Ravens’ center Matt Birk may go down as one of the biggest unsung heroes of Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl triumph, as the offensive line looked disorganised throughout the 2013 campaign, and struggled frequently to pick up blitzes, leaving Flacco to be sacked 48 times (2nd most in the NFL). A season-ending injury to guard Kelechi Osemele didn’t help, but following a midseason trade for left tackle Eugene Monroe, the unit should have performed at a much higher level. Much of the blame will certainly fall on offensive line coach/run game coordinator Juan Castillo. Castillo was signed during the Ravens’ playoff run last season, but his desire to implement a zone blocking scheme with Baltimore’s big, and consequently less mobile offensive line, has struggled from Week 1, and failed to improve in the subsequent weeks. If Castillo is still in Baltimore at the beginning of next season, it could be one of the bigger surprises this upcoming offseason has to offer.
Following a defensive lull in their run to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens took a big step towards regaining their defensive dominance, with an encouraging display in 2013. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard, and Dannell Ellerbe all departing Baltimore at the end of the 2012 season, expectations were not high for the Ravens’ defense in 2013. However, with veteran additions like Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil, and Chris Canty, as well as first round pick Matt Elam, the Baltimore defense seemingly bypassed their expected transitional phase, and immediately proved to be a solid force, ranked 12th in passing yards allowed, 11th in rushing yards allowed, and 8th in opponent red zone scoring percentage. The return of Lardarius Webb from an ACL injury in 2012, and the emergence of Jimmy Smith, meant that the Ravens had a pair of corners who were able to shutdown receivers, and allowed the likes of Corey Graham and James Ihedigbo to make plays.
Another challenging offseason lies ahead for the Ravens, not least so because both their starting tackles, Monroe and Michael Oher, could be heading into free agency, but Pitta, Arthur Jones, and Daryl Smith are also in the last years of their contract. Without an abundance of cap space, securing all five of these players will be a tough task. That being said, the Ravens have done a good job of refreshing their roster over the last few years, and as long as they can keep hold of Monroe and Pitta, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome continues his tradition of picking up value in free agency, they will have the luxury of being able to draft almost solely on value, rather than need, in the upcoming draft. Having their highest drafting position in the last five years, as well as some compensatory draft picks coming their way, the Ravens are in prime position to add enough quality to their roster to ensure they return to the playoffs next year, and with Newsome pulling the strings, it wouldn’t surprise many to see them back in the hunt in 2014.