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The NFL’s salary cap assures us of a few things. One of those things is competitive balance, something the pessimists call parity. Successful teams often will experience an attrition of players. Why? Because champions want to cash in and they want to make the most of an opportunity that could be fleeting.
After all the average tenure of a player in the NFL is less than four years. Each player is a severe leg injury or a stud college player away from losing their livelihood. Even players that are happy sometimes feel compelled to move on and get while they can while the getting is good.
Take Antwaan Randle El for example. He loved being a Steeler yet he now will play 40 miles to the south of us in a Redskins uniform where he’ll earn $27 million over the next 6 years (at least on paper). But more importantly, he received an $8 million signing bonus, just $1 million less than Hines Ward received from the Steelers.
Randle El is no Hines Ward.
Losses like that of Randle El are common for champions. The Steelers also lost Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen, both key members of the Steelers opportunistic defense. And that leaves even the World Champions with something that every team in the salary cap era has…holes!
No team is perfect. The key to being successful in the NFL is to manage your weaknesses better than your opponents. Exploiting weaknesses is key to victory in the NFL. When a lion is hungry in the Serengeti, does she go after the swiftest zebra? No, she looks for the one with the injured hoof who isn?t running quite as well as the others.
Exploiting weakness. Prying open holes.
Can you do it better than your opponent?
Many think that the Ravens have too many holes. There’s the offensive line, the running back situation, the thin secondary and of course the highlighted position of quarterback.
Admittedly the Ravens offensive line played horribly in 2005. But isn’t it conceivable that a healthier, more focused and re-dedicated offensive line with developing young talent, continuity and another year of coaching in the same system could be improved?
And if the offensive line is improved, couldn?t the running backs be more effective given a healthier Jamal Lewis (whose reputation as a premier back is at stake) and the addition of Mike Anderson?
And what about the secondary? Couldn’t rookies David Pittman and Derrick Martin provide some desperately needed youth and slot coverage skills? Besides providing above average special teams skills, isn’t it possible that Corey Ivy is a better coverage dime back than Chad Williams?
And what about that quarterback situation? If Steve McNair comes aboard as expected, doesn’t his presence alone change so much? The threat of McNair changes the way defenses respect the Ravens. They will no longer be able to compress the field so much and dare the quarterback to beat them because McNair will do exactly that.
His presence removes the 8 and 9 men from the box and with that, it takes pressure off the offensive line. Suddenly there’s more room to run, there’s more room to throw intermediate passes and more time to throw them. The Ravens might even play with a lead from time to time and in doing so, doesn’t that tilt time of possession in the Ravens favor? Doesn’t that help the defense? If the defense knows that an opponent needs to throw, might that then help them create more turnovers?
But it starts with McNair. It’s not as though we expect him to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. We expect competency and consistency as will Ravens’ opponents. McNair?s presence will boost confidence on both sides of the ball and with confidence comes achievement — achievement as opposed to the lack thereof in 2005.
Last year the Ravens finished 6-10 as you well know. Interestingly the Steelers finished 6-10 in 2003 and many thought they had holes on the offensive line and question marks in both the offensive and defensive backfields. What happened to them in 2004?
Can you say 15-1?
That’s not to say that you can expect the Ravens to do the same but there is precedent for quick turnarounds in the salary cap era of the NFL. Just look at last year’s playoff participants. Seven of the twelve teams were not even part of the post season landscape in 2004.
It’s all about exploiting weaknesses and covering your own.
Back in 2003 during their 6-10 season the Steelers finished ninth overall in total defense and they were 22nd in total offense. During the Ravens 2005 6-10 season, they were ranked fifth in total defense and 24th in total offense. All the griping about the Ravens secondary and defensive line isn’t really warranted when you look at the big picture. The 2005 Ravens were a very one dimensional team and despite that, you should know that the Ravens were closer to being the second ranked overall defense than they were the sixth. And every one of the top six ranked defenses except the Ravens were in the playoffs.
Imagine what the Ravens defense might accomplish with a healthy Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister and Dan Cody. Imagine what they might do if they played with a lead.
During the last three seasons, the Ravens are 19-5 when they score 20 points or more. Last year they scored 20 points or more only 3 times while averaging a little more than 16 points per game.
Do you think Steve McNair can at least change that? Do you think he’s worth 3 points per game to the Ravens? Even on a weak Titans team last year, McNair averaged nearly 20 points when he started and finished a game.
Sure the Ravens have holes. But so do the Steelers (sans Randle El, von Oelhoffen and Hope), the Bengals (possibly sans Palmer early in the season) and the Browns (they are the Browns). The first order of business in any season is to win your division.
No one said it would be easy. It never is.
But thanks to competitive balance or that crazy little thing called parity, the holes that some believe are too many to fill, might not be so bad for the 2006 version of the Baltimore Ravens.