As Tony Lombardi pointed out right here on RSR shortly after the schedule was released, it’s imperative for the Ravens to get off to a fast start in 2014. With three straight division games to start the season, the Ravens will either get out to a quick head start, or find themselves playing catch up in the AFC North after the first quarter of the season is complete.
Another important takeaway about the schedule that is worth noting, is Baltimore will face four solid defenses to start the season. This includes two that finished in the top five in total defense in 2013, Cincinnati and Carolina.
This will be a challenge for an offense that has a lot of new and important pieces, Owen Daniels, Steve Smith and Jeremy Zuttah among them. By the time the season starts there will likely be a new running back who will play a large role, and a new starting right tackle as well.
Throw a new play caller and system into the equation and the Ravens offense has a lot of work to do heading into training camp and the preseason. With so many moving pieces on offense, one of the biggest concerns has to be, can the Ravens offense build enough chemistry and cohesiveness in training camp and the preseason?
Looking at their schedule there is no doubt we will find out right away. Training camp and the preseason are obviously always important, but this year they will be especially crucial for the offense, considering all the changes they’ve gone through this offseason. Taking a less traditional approach could be beneficial.
John Harbaugh has already stated that this year’s training camp will be more physical. He also recently announced that the Ravens will hold several joint practices with the 49ers following their preseason game on August 7th. Both factors should help the offense get on the same page.
Playing time for starters in the preseason games is generally approached the same each year. A couple possessions in game one, the first half in game two and usually through third quarter in game three. Starters typically sit the finale to get rest and give back ups and bubble guys a chance for some extended live action.
Considering the stout defenses they’ll face early on, and having a revamped offense, increasing starters’ playing time may be beneficial. Building familiarity is vital to a new offense’s success, and an increased amount of live snaps can only help. Of course there is risk involved, but this may be a situation where Harbaugh wants to roll the dice considering how important the first four weeks are.
The Ravens defense went through a lot of transition in 2013. While they finished in the top ten of most statistical categories, it took a few weeks for them to get on the same page (we all remember week one when Peyton Manning tied an NFL record throwing for seven touchdowns). The Ravens need to make sure the offense doesn’t take the same path early on in 2014.
If it does, the Ravens will be playing catch up again in 2014. But, if they get on the same page early on, recapturing the AFC North crown and making a run in the playoffs is certainly feasible.