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  1. #1

    Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"



    Makes some good points.

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    There are certainly reasons to believe the Ravens are capable of being better in 2011 than they were in 2010. Their schedule should be much easier, as they swap out the AFC East and NFC South for the AFC South and the NFC West. An offense that ranked just 16th in points scored got rid of several big names who weren't producing very much with their opportunities, and the defense can hope to get more than 10 games out of Ed Reed, who still managed to lead the NFL with eight interceptions in 2010.

    Even without Reed, the Ravens have one of the deepest secondaries in football. Pencil in improvements from their young playmakers, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, and it adds up to 13 wins. Right?

    Not so fast. There are a lot of things that also went right for this team last year that aren't necessarily going to happen this year. Even if they do get 12 games from Reed and benefit from an easier schedule, there are some reasons for alarm in Charm City.

    Let's start with the pass rush. If you want to win a bet, ask a friend which team finished last in sack rate (sacks divided by quarterback dropbacks) last season. And give him or her 15 chances. Believe it or not, the answer is the once-feared pass rush of the Baltimore Ravens, who took down opposing quarterbacks on just 4.3 percent of their dropbacks. Terrell Suggs hit double digits for the first time since 2004 by taking down opposing quarterbacks 11 times, but after Haloti Ngata's 5.5 sacks, nobody else on the team had more than three. The secondary combined for just one sack, while starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson had only 1.5 sacks despite starting 16 games.

    This isn't a one-year fluke, either, as the Ravens rank just 25th in combined sack rate over the past three years. The devastating pass rushes of the Rams, Patriots, and Seahawks have all sacked quarterbacks more frequently over the past three seasons than the Ravens have. Baltimore undoubtedly hopes that 2010 pick Sergio Kindle, who missed his rookie season with a fractured skull, will be able to make an impact as a situational pass-rusher in 2011.

    The scary thing is that, outside of Kindle, the Ravens couldn't have asked for much more from their front seven in 2010. Their starters played in 111 of 112 games, which is only the second time they've been able to stay that healthy since the Super Bowl season of 2000. The secondary was beset by injuries, which is part of the reason why their sack rate hit rock bottom, as the Ravens stopped blitzing to protect an inexperienced secondary. In 2010, Football Outsiders noted that the Ravens rushed just three players on pass plays 6.2 percent of the time, which was 14th in the league. Last year, they rushed three and dropped eight defenders into coverage 17.3 percent of the time, which was the fourth-highest rate in football.

    While the secondary will be healthier in 2011, there's no guarantee that it will actually be good. Outside of Reed, whose availability will remain a fluid situation for the rest of his career, the unit is full of question marks. Salary-cap constraints forced the team to let safety Dawan Landry walk this offseason, and he'll be replaced by Bernard Pollard, a castoff from the miserable Texans pass defense of 2010. Yikes. The Ravens could go four-deep with effective cornerbacks this year after injuries ravaged them there last season, but each of their corners has question marks. Domonique Foxworth is coming off of an ACL tear and spent most of the past year serving on the front lines of the lockout fight as a key member of the players' union. Chris Carr is undersized and a much better fit in the slot than he is on the outside. Lardarius Webb is both undersized and inexperienced, having struggled last year after an ACL tear of his own in 2009. Cary Williams has been a practice-squad player for most of his career, and while first-round pick Jimmy Smith was often brilliant at Colorado, counting on rookie cornerbacks to contribute much is often a fool's errand. The Ravens have named Williams and Smith as their starters to begin the season, but expect that to change repeatedly as the season goes along.

    If the defense declines, there's no guarantee that the offense will be able to pick up the slack. While adding wide receiver Lee Evans and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to shore up weak spots in the offense during training camp sounds like a great idea, Evans hasn't produced over the past three seasons in Buffalo, and McKinnie has been out of shape and subpar for two consecutive seasons in Minnesota. They also both still need to learn the playbook. If either of those two were to fail, a rookie would take their place in the lineup.

    Oh, and while the Bears undoubtedly got hosed by the new kickoff rules, spare a rose for the Ravens. After years of mediocrity, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff had one of the more remarkable breakout seasons in the league last year, tying the league record with 40 touchbacks. He had just 11 touchbacks in his previous seven pro seasons. Advanced NFL Stats estimates that Cundiff's proclivity was worth about as much as 20 sacks with regard to field position. The Ravens also found a budding star in return man David Reed, who led the league by averaging 29.3 yards per kickoff return (minimum: 20 returns). The new kickoff rules will remove virtually all of the competitive advantages gained from having Cundiff and David Reed on the roster.

    Best-case scenario: Ed Reed stays healthy and plays all 16 games, freeing up new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to go after the opposing quarterback. Kindle has 10 sacks in a part-time role. New fullback Vonta Leach clears out massive swaths of space for Rice, who proceeds to win the rushing title. They finally beat the Steelers in the playoffs.

    Worst-case scenario: Lewis and Reed aren't able to answer the bell for 16 games. Combined. The pass rush continues to struggle, the secondary isn't great, and they slip to third place in the AFC North behind the Browns.




  2. #2
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    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    He also didn't study the team very much. Any valid points come with a grain of salt due to his lack or in depth research.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    I read this and thought some of his reasoning was a bit flawed.

    For instance, he mentions how much the Ravens dropped 8 defenders and failed to blitz, but doesn't mention how the Ravens plan to become much more aggressive this year now that Mattison is gone. The team is a lot more physical this year at corner and a lot faster/younger up front (no mention of Kruger either - he had a strong pre-season so it's not like he's completely under the radar).

    If his primary argument is centered around the team's low sack rate, then I'm not worried. This was a primary focus of the FO in the off-season. It was terrible last year - how could it not improve with the moves that were made?




  4. #4
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    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    This is a weird grouping: teams that are likely to decline. I mean any team that wins 12-14 games in one year is probably likely to win less in the following year. Likewise any team that wins 0-4 games is likely to win more in the following year.




  5. #5

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    I think the team is fully aware of Pollard's strengths and weaknesses, which is why we have Zibby and Nakamura. It's not like we were losing a good player in Landry or anything. (Of course the most notable departure, which goes unmentioned, was Wilson.) That's why with another year of recovery for Webb and Foxworth returning in some form, I can't see why the secondary at least won't be better than last year. The strengthened D-line and the steady or improved secondary will help each other out and ideally they will gel together as the season goes. I don't know if it's going to be pretty on Sunday, though.




  6. #6

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    While a decline is always possible, I think it is ridiculous to expect it. The schedule is softer, the pass rush and OL really could not get any worse than last year, and a slight improvement in those areas go take a 12-4 team to 13-3 or 14-2.







  7. #7

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    Quote Originally Posted by pyite32 View Post
    He also didn't study the team very much. Any valid points come with a grain of salt due to his lack or in depth research.
    Barnwell's an FO writer and much of this was taken from their analysis of the Ravens. It's an abridged version of the Ravens chapter, and I promise you there was not a lack of in depth research into the team done for that. Just cause you don't like it doesn't mean it wasn't well researched.

    Quote Originally Posted by lloyd christmas View Post
    If his primary argument is centered around the team's low sack rate, then I'm not worried. This was a primary focus of the FO in the off-season. It was terrible last year - how could it not improve with the moves that were made?
    People say the scheme will change a good bit, but that proof will be in the pudding. More importantly, there isn't much evidence that says simply throwing more bodies at QBs makes defenses more efficient. The point he's making is that the Ravens lack players that are strong in rushing the passer. He's not incorrect about that point. The only hope there is that Kindle plays well and Kruger improves over the level of "pathetic disappointment" at which he's been playing the last two years. Now, there's hope that's happening based on what we've seen in preseason so far, but that's no lock.

    I personally think Barnwell - and FO's - biggest problem is not adjusting to strength of schedule nearly enough. Last year, according to DVOA, the Ravens had the #6 most difficult schedule. They played the Saints, Falcons and Bucs who will be switched out for the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams this year. The Patriots and Dolphins get switched for the Colts (who should be much worse this year) and Titans. The Chargers are admittedly an upgrade over the Broncos, but that's basically one game that gets tougher and five that get softer.

    We shouldn't expect to win 12 games again this year. Winning 12 in the NFL is very tough, nevermind winning 24 in two years. But there's plenty of reason to think this team is on par with last year's team, and the softer schedule could potentially lead to better things.

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  8. #8
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    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    I can sorta, kinda, maybe just a teeny bit get with Barnwell's opinions, but when I read stuff like "The devastating pass rushes of the Rams, Patriots, and Seahawks have all sacked quarterbacks more frequently over the past three seasons than the Ravens have", I haveta ask stuff like -

    "Bill, ya referin' to the devestatin' pass rushes of the two teams who were (I believe) the first in NFL history to battle it out for Division dominance and the NFCW title with an overpowering 7-9 record? Are ya sayin' that with a better pass rush, the Ravens could challenge Pitt with a similar performance?....

    Know what I mean, Vern?"




  9. #9

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    Quote Originally Posted by pyite32 View Post
    He also didn't study the team very much. Any valid points come with a grain of salt due to his lack or in depth research.
    This, he made arguments about the lack of pass rush but only cited last years play calling and Sergio Kindle not playing last year. He didnt at all touch on the fact that Pagano is far and away a more aggressive coach nor did he touch on Kruger and Art Jones as improved players and Mcphee looking like one of the steals of the draft. I also think the Ravens will let Pollard be a blitzer and play to his strengths near the line of scrimmage while Zibby will handle more deep coverage duties, i think we are clearly better at that position. He acted as if Pollard was THE guy as SS. The cornerback questions are valid.
    Last edited by Carey; 09-07-2011 at 12:50 PM.




  10. #10

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    Using our sack rating in the past as a statistic in how the Ravens will decline is a terrible analogy. The fact is the Ravens have been to the play offs the last 3 years despite a horrible sack rating. If the Ravens can improve upon that statistic they will only get BETTER.

    I'm also not sure why people think Landry was such a great safety. All i ever saw was him missing tackles. Pollard is an upgrade IMO




  11. #11
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    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    He makes some valid points - the defense really struggled to hold a lead last year and that has to improve.
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  12. #12

    Re: Grantland's Bill Barnwell lists Ravens among teams "we expect will decline"

    Quote Originally Posted by Beau Petard View Post
    I can sorta, kinda, maybe just a teeny bit get with Barnwell's opinions, but when I read stuff like "The devastating pass rushes of the Rams, Patriots, and Seahawks have all sacked quarterbacks more frequently over the past three seasons than the Ravens have", I haveta ask stuff like -

    "Bill, ya referin' to the devestatin' pass rushes of the two teams who were (I believe) the first in NFL history to battle it out for Division dominance and the NFCW title with an overpowering 7-9 record? Are ya sayin' that with a better pass rush, the Ravens could challenge Pitt with a similar performance?....

    Know what I mean, Vern?"
    Exactly, difference being the Ravens have faired much better than the Rams and Seahawks and beat the Pats in the playoffs two years ago.




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