Leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL season I will be previewing last year’s playoff teams and their chances of making it back to the postseason
Record: 10-6 (tied for 2nd AFC North; Wild Card)
Key Additions: Breshard Perriman (26th overall pick, 2015 NFL Draft), Maxx Williams (55th overall pick, 2015 NFL Draft)
Key Losses: Torrey Smith (Free Agency, 49ers)
There’s something about the Baltimore Ravens that has me thinking big.
Last season when they won ten games and secured a Wild Card spot something told me then this team was better than that. They were better than just ten wins and not winning the division. They were better than the secondary played all season, when not one member of that secondary had more than one interception.
They were so much better, and yet, they weren’t.
What Went Right
Can we talk about Joe Flacco as an elite Quarterback, yet?
He’s averaged 10 wins a year since he took over as the starter in 2008 and isn’t slowing down any as evidenced by his performance in 2014. What’s interesting about Flacco is, he’s never going to have numbers that jump off the stat sheet, but he has led Baltimore to the postseason every year except 2013.
I think we know how he performs once the Ravens are in the postseason.
Aside from Flacco, the Ravens front seven was one of the best units in the NFL last year. Elvis Dumervil might have had the quietest 17 sack season in recent memory. Pairing him with Terrell Suggs (12 sacks) made life that much better for the interior defense to grow into their roles. Big things are expected of Brandon Williams as he replaces Haloti Ngata at Nose Tackle and, it should be noted, he played very well last season filling in for Ngata.
While last season didn’t see an ideal end blowing, not one, but two 14-point leads to the Patriots can’t sit well with them as they head into 2015. But about those leads…
What Went Wrong
When the Patriots mounted their comeback they did it in a fashion that was painfully familiar to the Ravens all 2014 season long.
They threw on them. All over them.
In fact the Patriots only rushed for 14 yards in that AFC Divisional game; contrast that with the 408 yards and four scores they had throwing the football (including a touchdown pass by Julian Edelman) and I think it’s safe to say the downfall of this team was the back-end of the defense.
It didn’t help that their best player in the secondary (Jimmy Smith) was injured for half the teams game; making Lardarius Webb a lone wolf.
Why Am I Skeptical?
I think the thing that could make the Ravens really good in 2015 could also be their downfall.
They drafted well this year, bringing in tight end Maxx Williams and wide receiver Breshard Perriman. It was an influx of youth on the offensive side that was sorely needed given the injury issues with Dennis Pitta and the age of their top wide receiver, Steve Smith. They also might have taken one of the more underrated prospects in this class at running back in Javorius Allen.
Baltimore did a good job last season of getting by with a patchwork secondary but it kept them from being true Super Bowl contenders. They will need all hands healthy and on deck if they want to take that next step. What they will also need is to keep everyone up front healthy, because while they might have one of the best young rosters in all of the NFL the depth isn’t quite where it needs to be along the defensive line if someone were to get hurt.
It’s pretty amazing I’ve gotten this far without mentioning Justin Forsett. Now that I have I want to make it clear that, fantastic 2014 aside, this team needed to be covered at running back in all facets. Marc Trestman very well could take Forsett’s production to another level and render me foolish in my skepticism for a second year in a row. I’m more inclined to think Allen or Lorenzo Taliaferro split the load in a return to sanity year for Forsett.
The most interesting statistic about the 2014 Baltimore Ravens was their +/- differential on the season of +107. Only five teams in the NFL were better in that department; now imagine if they had not been so bad against the pass.
I see a lot of good things about this year’s Ravens team. So much so that I feel they have the look of a Super Bowl team again. Obviously some things will have to be ironed out, but look for Joe Flacco to make it seven playoff appearances in eight years this season.
Record Prediction: 11-5, Playoff bound
Disagree? Tell me why and follow me on Twitter, @DACubbage.