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On the heals a 13-3 record, the Ravens entered 2007 with lofty expectations and Super Bowl aspirations. However, injuries marred a season that was once filled with promise. With each starter bitten by the injury bug, whether it was Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister or Samari Rolle, the lack of depth at key positions became more and more evident.
The performance of a once dominant Ravens defense fell off during the second half of the season and was actually among the league’s worst in several major categories. Once Pryce fell to injury, the Ravens were unable to generate a consistent pass rush and opposing teams then focused their attention on Terrell Suggs, limiting his production.
The key to the Ravens defense lies in their ability to pressure the quarterback. Pryce commands a double team whenever he is in the game, freeing up other players like Suggs and Bart Scott who make the most of clearer paths to the quarterback.
While Pryce’s injury was significant, once McAlister and Samari Rolle went down, opposing teams were able to easily pick apart the secondary and the Ravens defense went from being the hunter to the prey. Instead of being able to consistently bring their exotic blitz packages and have the corners play close to the line, the Ravens were forced to play it safe and have the corners drop back to prevent long aerial strikes.
The conservative approach did little to help as the Ravens were tied for worst in the league in allowing the long ball, giving up 15 plays of 40 yards and they ranked third worst, giving up over 50 plays of 20 yards or more.
McAlister and Rolle are still among the league’s premier cornerback tandems when healthy but the secondaryâ€™s depth chart provides little behind them. One would be hard-pressed to find another corner capable of starting in the NFL at this point. Corey Ivy is a hard nosed player but struggles in coverage and should not be depended on as anything more than a nickel or dime back while David Pittman, a former third round pick, has failed to live up to expectations although he did finish out the season with a solid game against the Steelers.
With McAlister and Rolle only starting 13 games combined, the Ravens pass defense gave up 220 yards a game after allowing only 188 yards a game the year before. The Ravens allowed 17 touchdown passes over the final seven games that McAlister and Rolle missed and allowed almost 250 yards a game through the air over the final half of the season, including a 315-yard game to Cleo Lemon of the Dolphins.
Heading towards the Draft, the depth behind Pryce as well as behind McAlister and Rolle have to be the teamâ€™s two top priorities. Obviously, the quarterback position is shaky with Steve McNair coming off his own injury, Troy Smith still being unproven and Kyle Boller having yet to prove he was worth a first-round pick six years ago.
Nonetheless, cornerback and defensive end have to be viewed as just as important as the need for a quarterback and maybe even more important. Smith showed he has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback when he made the most of his playing time at the end of the year and it would appear that he has the tools to be a starter. While there’s no doubt in my mind that the Ravens would take Matt Ryan from Boston College if he fell to them at No. 8, I don’t see another quarterback worth taking in either the first or second round unless Brian Brohm somehow falls to the Ravens in the second round.
Friday, I will take a look at some of the players the Ravens could select with their first and second round picks in order to sure up some of the holes on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Get all of Matt’s latest on the NFL Draft at Press Box Online’s Football 101.