RAVENS GET FIFTH “EASIEST” STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
With the NFL season officially over after the Seattle Seahawks hoisted the Lombardi trophy earlier this month, it’s time to begin looking toward next season. Although the actual schedule will not be released until sometime in April, with opponents known, already pundits have calculated the strength of schedule for each of the 32 teams based on 2013 records.
The good news on the surface for Ravens fans is that Baltimore’s schedule currently looks like the fifth-easiest of the 32 teams. However, upon closer examination that ranking may not mean much. In 2013 before the season the Ravens were expected to have the fifth most brutal schedule, but after the season it ended up being the league’s 12th easiest schedule.
The currently expected “easier’ schedule in 2014 is based upon the assumptions that teams like Houston (2-14), Cleveland (4-12), Atlanta (4-12), and Tampa Bay (4-12) will all play as poorly next season as they did this year. Both Houston and Atlanta were division winners the year before so with some sort of rebound all but assured, the schedule may prove to be deceptively difficult.
This change from the beginning of the season to the end of the season’s strength of schedule has gotten progressively larger over the last few years, as the league has gotten better and better at creating parity. The early glance at the opponents for 2014 is definitely not especially daunting, but it would also be unwise to expect the Ravens to have a much easier season.
REED ON OTHER END OF COSTLY INTERCEPTION
It has been a rough year for former Ravens safety Ed Reed. This time a year ago, he had just won his first Super Bowl and had played a good game, intercepting San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the game. He had announced he wanted to play for multiple more seasons, and the Ravens seemed interested in retaining him.
Since then it has been a bumpy ride, as Reed was not made an offer he liked by the Ravens and instead signed a three-year deal with the Houston Texans. Reed was cut during the season after being benched and calling out the coaching staff in Houston and then finished the season with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. Reed is now likely going to become a restricted free agent in March.
It got even worse recently, as earlier this week Reed had $50,000 stolen from his car while at a bank in Houston. Reed had left the bag on the passenger seat and gone into the bank for a minute, only to return and find the door smashed and the money gone. Authorities in Houston say they believe Reed was likely followed to the bank and the thieves were waiting for a chance to jump the car.
Reed is no stranger to robberies, as his home was robbed last year while he was at the Super Bowl. Reed’s business in Houston was already not of the enjoyable variety as he was working on selling his house, and losing $50k made it even worse. Reed will always have a special place in many Ravens’ fans hearts, so the news is disappointing. Fortunately, Reed was not injured during the robbery.
KUBIAK AND RICE MEET FACE TO FACE
One of the first steps in a possible return to relevance for former Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is getting on the same page as his new offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Rice recently met with Kubiak and they agreed that the first step is forgetting the struggles Rice had in 2013 and simply working on moving forward.
Kubiak didn’t hold back when discussing how critical Rice is to the offense saying, “I think as he goes, we’ll go. Our goal is to get him going, and he’s excited to get going and put last year behind him.” Kubiak has been known for strong running games in the past, most recently helping Arian Foster rise from an undrafted player to one of the best running backs in the game.
Foster and backup Houston running back Ben Tate led Houston to top-eight rushing offenses in 2010-2012 before Foster was injured last season and Houston imploded to finish with the worst record in football. Kubiak hopes to use Rice and backup Bernard Pierce to return the Baltimore running game to form.
Rice’s decline last year was steep, but he has admitted recently a large part of his drop off in performance was due to his hip flexor injury (among other ailments). If Rice can come into 2014 healthy, and Kubiak can install some of his successful schemes into the Ravens offense, Rice should certainly outperform his 2013 stats of under 700 yards rushing at only 3.1 yards per carry.
WOULD RAVENS CONSIDER ADDING CONTROVERSIAL PLAYER?
The Ravens have long been considered to be one of the best-led organizations in football, both at the ownership level and in the locker room. While there were questions in 2013 after the team lost strong leaders in Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin, leadership is still one of the things the Ravens do not have to worry about this offseason.
Which brings up the question of how the team would deal with a potentially controversial player, such as offensive linemen Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin. Incognito and Martin spent a large part of last season in the news after Martin left the Dolphins, saying Incognito bullied him and he needed help. Text messages and voicemails were released, and Incognito was suspended.
Since then the conflict has not been resolved, but it is expected that Incognito will not be resigned after he becomes a free agent in March, and that the Dolphins would like to trade Martin. Both players are solid, and the offensive line is one of Baltimore’s largest concerns this offseason so if the price is right the Ravens could pursue adding one of them.
The Ravens have handled potential problem players in the past including running back Ricky Williams. The organization has made it clear that the number one goal is to win games, and if the team believes a player can produce and stay out of trouble, the Ravens are not afraid to pursue them. Adding Incognito or Martin could end up being a shrewd move if their prices drop due to the media frenzy.