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Only three days until we get to watch the purple pound on an opponent.
Sure, It’s only pre-season which at times can be as exciting as watching a PBS pledge drive but I assure you there is still plenty to hold your interest for four quarters.
I will be most interested to watch Joe Flacco and the first team offense work against the Carolina starters if only for a short time. We’ve heard so much about how this team could have one of the league’s best offenses – on paper. They’ve added new players through trades and the draft and they should be improved. However I’m skeptical and I’ll believe it when I see it between the white lines.
It’s been about ten years since Baltimore last won that glorious championship and a lot has changed around the league. We all know that a smothering defense simply won’t be allowed to dominate the opposition to win a title in today’s quarterback driven NFL. Nor would a hard nosed game manager like Trent Dilfer be able to navigate the playoff waters to victory these days. To win you must score outscore your opponent.
I’ve been pleased with Cam Cameron’s development of the offense since he took over and in two years the Ravens have climbed from the 24th ranked scoring offense (17.4) (2007) to the 9th ranked (24.4) this past season. But to climb to that elite level they are going to have to improve in several areas.
So does this offense have what it takes to win a championship?
Maybe, but a few things have to happen.
1) Joe Flacco – As I said it’s a quarterbacks league and the Ravens have finally found theirs in the Jersey native. All signs point to a breakout year for Joe Cool but he must grow from past mistakes. He has to be able to use the middle of the field and not be so willing to go to his safety valves of Ray Rice/Derrick Mason. If he could just be the guy that started the first six games last season. Relaxed, confident and using all his options then he’ll hit the 4,000 yard mark with little difficulty. I really want to see him assert more leadership on the field. This is his offense.
2) Anquan Boldin – Baltimore biggest offensive acquisition since Shannon Sharpe should provide the team with the physical, dominant threat they have lacked. His tough style also leads to injuries and the team needs him on the field as another player defenses must account for. If he stays healthy he will be a big part of why Baltimore’s offense stays in the top ten or higher.
3) Cam Cameron– Baltimore has so many choices on the field and on the bench that some people wonder if Cam will be able to satisfy everyone? It’s a nice problem to have. He has two All-Pros in the backfield and a touchdown machine in Willis McGahee to go along with several options in the pass attack. He’s going to have to strike a balance between being unpredictable and not getting too cute. (Leave Ngata on the defense) Either way all eyes are on him and all that matters to fans are touchdowns, not field goals.
4) Ray Rice – The stocky Rutgers alum was marvelous last season. His playoff touchdown run against the Pats is on continuous loop on the big screen in my basement. He certainly won’t sneak up on anyone this season and should be drafted in all your fantasy leagues in the first round. He shouldn’t need to lead the team in receptions this season (78 in 09′) but the offense should flow through him. I want to see as little of him as possible over the next few weeks until we travel to New York. An injury to Rice would be catastrophic. (No Whammies)
5) Slot Receiver– Who will be the number three? Donte Stallworth? I don’t have a lot of confidence that he’s the answer. This is his fifth team in six seasons. Mark Clayton? The Magic man is tough to figure out. He teases you with a big game or two and then pulls up lame or vanishes completely. Demetrius Williams? I like his natural ability but he can’t seem to impress the coaching staff. He’s unlikely to make the final cut. Rookies David Reed or Ed Dickson? I’ve heard good things out of camp and it’s always fun to watch the newbies in their first pro action. But is either one ready to make an impact? You always have the option of sliding Mason or Boldin there for some snaps but I’d love to see a third player emerge.
6) The O-Line– You have a young athletic. phyiscal line with a heady vet in Matt Birk calling the shots in the middle. This could be a stellar group but the Right side is back to being called into question. Jared Gaither is in “limbo”, while Oniel Cousins is slated to start at Right Tackle this Thursday. I really hope that Cousins is up for the challenge. This line seems more built to be a running team and has let up too many sacks in pass protection some of which is their fault and some not. If the Ravens want to throw it more pass protection must get better.
Ravens’ fans have good reason to be optimistic about this season. There are plenty of untapped possibilities out there with this roster and it’s easily the deepest team in franchise history. Just keep a close watch on this offense because as it goes, so go the fortunes of a third consecutive playoff appearance and maybe more.