Who are the 2013 Baltimore Ravens?
Besides the natural response of defending Super Bowl Champions, the next best answer may be, “TBD.”
To Be Determined…
On defense the Ravens have talent that dwarfs that of last season. Of course there’s better depth, vital to enduring the grind of the long season. But a quick look around the starting 11 reveals a rather significant upgrade.
Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Brandon Williams are substantial improvements over the 2012 rotation that included a starter, one year removed from football and from tipping the scales at 400+, Ma’ake Kemoeatu. Elvis Dumervil is a more accomplished edge rusher than Paul Kruger and the 2013 version of Jimmy Smith is on the rise.
And let’s be honest, Daryl Smith is an upgrade over the 2012 version of Ray Lewis.
The defense is also healthier as defensive coordinator Dean Pees fields 3 Pro Bowl caliber players who were either lost or severely slowed by injury in 2012, namely Lardarius Webb, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs.
This unit just needs a little time to gel.
Offensively many fans are clamoring for a receiver, a tight end and a running game. All are legitimate concerns yet there have been signs of productivity. The Ravens were in control against the Broncos on opening night before a crushing third quarter. Against the Browns if Marlon Brown, Torrey Smith and Justin Tucker make the plays they are supposed to, you are looking at another 6 to 14 points against a tough, motivated Browns defense.
Like his defensive counterpart, Jim Caldwell and his group needs a little time too.
Assistant coach Juan Castillo’s blocking scheme in the running game isn’t in synch yet. Joe Flacco hasn’t developed the trust and rapport with his receivers, a prerequisite for throwing to a spot. Instead, Flacco needs to wait for receivers to break open and rely on his arm strength to fit his passes into rapidly closing windows.
It will take some time. It’s a work in progress but while they are building and reaching towards synchronicity, ugly wins aren’t so bad.
This week’s game against the Houston Texans will be quite a challenge for the Ravens. Last year the JJ Watt & Co. dismantled the Ravens (43-13) and that has influenced NFL Betting Odds which list the Ravens as 2 to 2 ½ point home underdogs – not exactly the norm for defending champions.
Yet the line is understandable.
Even if the Ravens lose (that’s what I suspect will happen), all isn’t lost if they make positive strides against a quality opponent.
It’s all about improvement while managing the season, remaining in the mix and then punching their ticket to the postseason dance.
Success in the NFL isn’t about who is the best team in September. It’s all about embracing the grind and steady improvement. It’s all about being the best during the playoffs.
We have witnessed it with other teams and we lived it last season. There will be puddles and mud along the journey’s road. And there will be failures. But with the proper focus and attention to the little things that make a big difference, there’s no reason the Ravens can’t be there in the end. They have the talent and there really isn’t a dominant team in the conference, regardless of what ESPN says about their flavor of the week.
Perhaps Terrell Suggs said it best as he cautioned the team following the win over the Browns.
“Let’s not kid ourselves…we’ve got some work to do.”
To be continued…