Like most kids growing up, I played several different sports, one of which was tennis. One of the first things you are taught in this great game is that positioning yourself properly is one of the keys to winning a point. You either set yourself up at the baseline, which stabilizes the point and gives you a reasonable chance at success with little risk, or attack the net in an effort to take control of the point and try to put your opponent away.
The net position comes with some risk and vulnerability if the approach isn’t setup properly, but if done correctly it puts your opponent on their heels. The last place you want to be on the court, though, is between the baseline and the net, an area referred to as no-man’s land. Your chances of victory diminish greatly, should you position yourself in this less-than-advantageous spot.
So, how does this relate to the Ravens?
In the world of the NFL, that’s exactly where the Ravens have set up shop since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. They’ve been stuck in no-man’s land, and a team that was consistently good for five years has been consistently mediocre for the last four.
What’s the approach going forward? Should the Ravens hang back at the baseline, giving the team a decent chance at success but also keeping an eye on the future? Or should they attack the net and be in a win-now mentality?
If a team realistically thinks they have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, the latter of the two is the right play – but do the Ravens have that shot?
It might be time to take a step back and hang at the baseline for a point or two with an eye on more than just 2017.
Last season, the argument could be made that the Ravens were only a couple of pieces away from being a team that could compete for a championship. Sure, they were coming off a 5-11 season, but an unprecedented rash of injuries could be viewed as the biggest reason that 2015 turned out the way it did. When more than twenty players finish the season on injured reserve, that’s a reasonable argument to make.
The team’s shortcomings this past season however, had more to do with an offense that looked frequently flat and a defense that looked old and worn down in the final stretch of the season.
Plenty to Fix
The list of holes going into next season is a lengthy one.
As seems to be the case on an annual basis, this team needs corners and receivers. With the retirement of Steve Smith Sr., they lack a go-to target for Joe Flacco. It’s too hard to say if Breshad Perriman will ever become that, and we don’t even know if Mike Wallace will be back next season with his sizable cap number. The Ravens will explore the free agent market but there aren’t many viable options.
As far as corners go, Jimmy Smith is a difference-maker when he’s on the field, but staying on the field consistently has been his problem. The Ravens need a really good second corner, especially when Smith can’t play. While Tavon Young proved to be a good draft pick, he can’t match up with big-bodied receivers.
Edge rusher is another pressing need. Elvis Dumervil has probably played his last game in Baltimore and Terrell Suggs will be 35 next season. The Ravens made it clear that they expect Suggs back – but is that wise?
John Harbaugh needs to find out if Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon can be double-digit sack guys. What if Suggs retires after next season and Judon doesn’t get significant playing time until 2018? If he has a breakout year, the Ravens will only have him with one year left on his rookie contract. How many times have the Ravens seen a player finally hit his stride in the final year of his rookie deal, only to exit for more lucrative pastures?
Add safety and now middle linebacker to the list with the retirement of Zachary Orr, and it’s fair to ask whether Ozzie Newsome should look at purging the roster this offseason. This team has been in a win-now mentality for the past four seasons and it hasn’t worked. They don’t need to blow things up and start over like the Browns did last season, but thinking about more than just 2017 is important.
The Ravens need to move on from players like Lardarius Webb, Dumervil and probably even Suggs. They need to find out if younger players on the roster can develop into difference makers. If they can, great! If they don’t, well…at least we know.
What would be worse, one bad season or four more years of mediocrity?