I’m not a betting man, but here’s a tip: Take the 30-1 odds that Vegas has listed for the Ravens winning the Super Bowl and run with it.
Don’t even think twice about it.
The reality is that those are the best odds that you’re going to get for any legitimate Super Bowl contender, let alone the defending champs.
The Ravens continue to get questioned by the odds makers and the media who conduct daily dissections of a group of former players who have been “whacked” (if you’re a fan of The Sopranos, you’ll get the reference.) The latest player to hit the departed trail is fullback Vonta Leach. He’s also another player that simply didn’t fit the long-term vision of the Baltimore front office and coaching staff.
Leach, like some of his predecessors, was set to struggle under the new direction that the team is employing: speed, youth and long-term viability. As great a player as Leach may be at his position, he was likely to rot in offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s offensive system. Keep in mind, the Ravens ran a lot of two-tight end sets during their postseason run. They also ran variations of the hurry-up or “sugar huddle” offense. Both of those scenarios don’t favor a player like Leach being on the field. With his price tag, it simply didn’t make sense to keep him.
Still, Leach has a big name. And he joins a laundry list of names that have been jettisoned by the organization to make room for guys that will provide a better return on investment (ROI) but lack the same star power. Simply put, the Ravens are looking to maximize their salary structure, paying out younger players (first, second and third-year guys) to take the place of veterans who would have been paid double and triple the amount.
But will the Ravens’ very own “Moneyball” approach work? There are a few reasons to think that it will.
Here is why you should buy into Baltimore being even better in 2013:
1. The 2012 team was severely flawed
Remember when the Ravens were looked at as lambs ready to be slaughtered by Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs? Give credit where credit is due. Baltimore won the Super Bowl and did so because of guile, clutch play, and sheer willpower. However, they needed plenty of breaks. The reality is the team—especially the defense—was running on fumes. If the 49ers had another quarter to work with in the Super Bowl, they may have stolen that game. Don’t you think the Baltimore brass noticed that?
2. Position coaches who can stamp their imprint
Caldwell and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are preparing to enter their second year as coordinators. Both men were hampered by limited personnel and scheme flexibility. With a full offseason, and the ability to make adjustments to their playbooks, they will be able to expand their plans. In the case of Pees, it will mean having a faster and healthier group. In the case of Caldwell, he will be able to fully implement his offense with players that fit and have time to grasp the terminology.
3. Speed and flexibility
Across the board, the Ravens have made a conscious effort to add speed and depth to both sides of the ball. On offense, the shift started in the postseason. Caldwell used multiple packages and subbed players out as needed. Pees will have arguably the deepest defense to work with in Ravens’ history. And although this may not be a popular opinion, he also won’t be encumbered by legends like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed who could not be substituted out of the game due to their enormous statures. Pees can run his packages his way and use a heavy rotation without any political factors. From a speed standpoint, the defense will be able to run with the fastest offenses and it’ll be much tougher to attack Baltimore in the passing game.
4. Defense will be better
This is an obvious but underappreciated point. On paper, the Ravens should be better at every defensive facet—pass rush, rush defense and coverage. The run defense will be lifted by a deeper front line. The pass rush will feature a healthier Terrell Suggs and a dynamic bookend running mate in Elvis Dumervil, along with more rushers all around to chase the quarterback. On the back end, the return of corner Lardarius Webb and a new safety combo of Michael Huff and rookie Matt Elam will bring better versatility and speed to the table. Speaking of speed, did I mention that these guys can flat out run? The issues that could slow down this lineup, at least in the beginning of the season, are a leadership shift and the massive integration of new personnel.
5. Stability at quarterback and offensive line
Joe Flacco’s rise has been well documented. With Caldwell at his side for another season, there is little reason to think he won’t continue to grow and command the offense. In fact, according to the OTA reports, Flacco was even talking trash and played with a noticeable swagger. He has come of age and has the utmost flexibility in Caldwell’s offense. The other crucial element to Flacco’s continued development is an offensive line that is largely intact. The return of left tackle Bryant McKinnie keeps an incredible guard tandem (Kelechi Osemele and Marshall Yanda) at their respective positions, while also enabling Michael Oher to stay where he belongs–not on the blind side.
Now, none of this is to predict that the Ravens will repeat as champs. As we know all too well – and as noted above – it takes a great amount of good fortune for even the most talented squad to hoist the Lombardi in any given season. However, despite what Vegas and the talking heads are trying to tell you, the 2013 Ravens will have as good a chance as anybody.
And they could feel the confetti fall once again.