Ravens 2011 offense can be among the Top 5

Street Talk Ravens 2011 offense can be among the Top 5

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I am tremendously excited this season to see what the Ravens do offensively.  Defensively, in some circles there is an erroneous perception that the Ravens are “old,” which obviously stems from the ages of Lewis (36) and Reed (33 at the start of the season), however the rest of the starting defense is filled with young players or players in their prime, perhaps a couple at the end of their prime, but in their prime nonetheless. 

Either way, the defense has ranked 3rd in scoring D the last three seasons, so it stands to reason that they will do on or about the same this season. 

So let’s focus on the massively altered offense from last season. 

The big difference this year will be the air game.  Besides Flacco, the only returning player that had any carries out of the backfield last season is Rice.  Ergo, expect Rice to get the vast majority of the carries. 

Of the team’s top-7 receivers last season, and those responsible for over 95% of the team’s catches, only two return;  Boldin and Rice.  That leaves over 50% of last season’s receptions unaccounted for this season.  This is where it gets very interesting and where some might panic, but where others see how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

The only significant offensive skill position player that the Ravens have added, besides Ricky Williams whom I expect to be all but the 2011 version of Fred Taylor, is Lee Evans.  Williams starts the season however I expect the Ravens to transfer Damien Berry from the practice squad by the bye week.  Simply put, 34 year old RBs to be closer to 35 by the end of the season, simply have no track record, at all, of doing anything significant in the NFL, and there’s a reason for it. 

We can discuss “low mileage” all we want to, as if over 2,300 carries and near 10,000 yards is “low mileage,” but the fact remains that there will be little if anything that a 34-year old Williams can do that Berry wouldn’t be able to do.  It will be half a miracle if Williams can post the same 380 yards, 5 TDs, and 400+ total yards-from-scrimmage that McGahee got last season on 3.8 yards-per-carry.  It’s a little bit of a reach to think that Berry couldn’t do the same that Williams will end up doing.  I expect two or three hundred yards rushing on 3.0 yards per carry out of Williams, and if he’s very lucky a few goal-line attempts for 2 or 3 TDs. 

The point being that Williams will add nothing notable this season.  He won’t even be in the league next season, so it would behoove the team to see what Berry (or another RB) can do. 

But I digress…

The situation offensively lies somewhere between exciting and tentative.  Tentative because of the 6 WRs currently on the roster, four have not caught a single pass in the NFL during the regular season and of those four, three are rookies with the fourth being second year David Reed.  That leaves Evans and Boldin to carry the load until Cameron and the team sort things out with the younger guys, which could take three games or it could take 16 games. 

There is even a small possibility that none of the four will ever amount to much more than 4th or 5th WRs in the NFL as well and for as much as Ravens fans are loath to admit it.  The bottom line is that we do not know right now.  What we do know is that Evans and Boldin are more than capable WRs. 

In running the ball, and accounting for my comments on Williams above, a similar situation exists.  Neither Anthony Allen nor Damien Berry have a wealth of experience receiving out of the backfield and that’s being kind. 

At TE, the Ravens return a pair of second year TEs that caught a combined 12 catches for 153 yards and 1 TD last season, all but one catch of which was by Dickson.  At first glance this may seem worrisome, but read on. 

Here’s how I see it: 

The Ravens have a golden opportunity this year and it will be a season, where if they can stay healthy among Flacco, Rice, Evans, Boldin, Dickson, and Pitta, in which Cam Cameron either cements himself as a solid offensive coordinator for the Ravens that knows how to make the most with what he’s handed, or conversely reward him with a well-deserved cascade of criticism.  Neither Rice, Evans, nor Boldin have any significant injury histories to date. 

RB: 

Ray Rice is, well, Ray Rice.  He has averaged over 1,900 yards-from-scrimmage the last two seasons, his second and third seasons in the NFL, in what I view as lesser circumstances than he will have this season.  ‘nuff said there. 

WR: 

While some Ravens fans do not fully know what they have yet in Lee Evans, the Lee Evans/Anquan Boldin tandem in this analyst’s opinion is among the premier starting tandems, if not the premier starting tandem, in the league today.  No matter how it is sliced however, it is definitely a top tandem at minimum.  It is all that an NFL QB can hope for short of having Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne or Greg Jennings on the same team.  There are no excuses here. 

TE: 

Due to the presence of perennial notable TE Todd Heap, neither rookie last season, Dickson or Pitta, had much of a chance to shine.  Well, that changes in spades this season with Heap now vacated and the only other experienced skill position players on offence being the three above. 

This tandem has the potential to be very similar to New England’s Grontkowski/Hernandez tandem.  Either way, common sense isn’t merely dictating, rather it’s screaming at the top of its lungs, for frequent use of 2-TE sets.  This is what will either make or break Cameron in his fourth season as the OC, namely his ability to incorporate both TEs into his offensive game scheming given the lack of experience at WR otherwise. 

While some of the younger players, Allen, Berry, Smith, Doss, Williams, or Reed will likely develop, it will take time and it will not likely be to the extent that will make a significant difference from this season over last, leaving the Ravens to rely on the aforementioned five-some, Rice, Evans, Boldin, Dickson, & Pitta to do their damage using the youngsters only as fillers and role players to give the others a breather for the most part.  And until he begins to fall apart, Ricky Williams adds experienced play despite the odds that he will not be around for the playoffs. 

OL:

All of a sudden with the acquisitions of experienced vets McKinnie and Gurode, the offensive line looks much more solid!  The OL will not hold up progress this season.  The absolute worst case scenario is that the Ravens end up with an above average line.  Best case of course is that they end up with a top-5 or 10 line. 

Strategy & Expectations: 

Rice is a premier RB.  Evans (as fans will soon see) and Boldin are premier WRs.  Dickson and Pitta both have a history of superlative play at the collegiate level and have big potential in the NFL.  All played well during the preseason.  All are seemingly durable. 

Evans brings to this team not only what the Ravens have been missing for years, but quite frankly, what Mason and Housh offered, and then some, rolled into one.  Evans is a deep threat with speed, can adjust on the fly, is a fantastic route runner, goes over-the-middle, catches all the short stuff, has great hands, and is a possession receiver to boot.  Boldin is Boldin, having very similar properties yet without that burst that Evans has, but in exchange Boldin has size that allows him to work better while draped with defenders.  Together, and coupled with Rice and the TEs, there isn’t a spot on the field that won’t be available for Flacco. 

Flacco posted 14 passing TDs in his rookie season, 21 in ’09, and 25 last season.  Expect that figure to hit 30 this season if Cameron does his job optimally. 

In attempting to think back to a similar situation for an NFL team, what came to mind was the Niners of the late ‘80s, and particularly their ’89 season.  In that season, the wide-receiving tandem of Rice/Taylor, TE Brent Jones, and RBs Craig and Rathman posted over 90% of the teams receiving yardage. 

While the Ravens do not have a Craig/Rathman tandem, Rice provides better rushing than both combined and still packs a similar receiving punch too out of the backfield. 

The Ravens have more options however with both Pitta and Dickson at TE contrasted with only Jones at TE for the Niners, and combined they should post at least the 40 catches for 500 yards that Jones posted in that season. 

Lee Evans may be no Jerry Rice, and it would be lofty to predict that Evans will have the same 82 catches for 1,483 yards and 17 TDs that Rice posted that season, however if he can stay healthy I will suggest that Evans will catch no fewer than 80 balls with 1,400 yards a distinct possibility if not a likelihood while posting in the 10-15 range for TDs.  I also see Boldin posting in the range of what Taylor did that season.  Taylor posted 60 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 TDs. 

No matter how it is sliced however, and given the lack of experience in the skill positions on the team after those five players, with quite frankly even Pitta and Dickson being light on experience, if the Ravens’ O is to improve, it is going to have to come from those five players, particularly Rice, Evans, and Boldin. 

I see a very much Air-Coryell type of passing game this season which will benefit heavily, both directly as well as indirectly, from the addition of Evans. 

Here is approximately how I see the passing game breaking down in terms of numbers:

% of Team’s Catches

Recpts.

Yards

YPC

TDs

Evans

24.3%

85

1,350

15.9

12

Boldin

21.4%

75

1,050

14.0

8

Rice

20.0%

70

600

8.6

1

Dickson/Pitta

17.1%

60

770

12.8

6

Doss/Smith/Reed

15.7%

55

500

9.1

2

Others

1.4%

5

50

10.0

1

100.0%

350

4,320

30

 
I see Flacco putting the ball in the air 10-15% more often than last season. 
 

Att

Cmp

Yards

%

YPA

TD

INT

Flacco ’10

489

306

3,622

62.6%

7.4

25

10

Flacco ’11

550

350

4,320

63.6%

7.9

30

15

 
The bottom line is that offensively, if the Ravens want to improve their offense from last season, those are the six players that are going to have to carry the lion’s share of the load, and more specifically the foursome of Flacco, Rice, Evans, and Boldin.  If Cameron succeeds in doing that, effectively and optimally, which will also necessarily mean maximally, then he will make progress.  If not, then any criticism that follows him during and after the season will likely be well earned.  You either utilize your strengths optimally or you do not.  Not doing so this year necessarily means relying largely on mystery meat.  Fans in Baltimore are not ready for a sub that they can lose weight on, they’re ready for a sub with some meat and substance to it this season!  Something that will fill them up and not leave them with that empty feeling after leaving the table! 
 
As the Lewis/Reed era nears its close, both they and the defense are ready to make the leap to win a Super Bowl. 
 
If the Packers did it last season, the Ravens can do it this season 

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