|The Ravens hope free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace provides the deep threat they lacked last season |
(photo source: http://www.wbaltv.com/)
The Patriots last season seemed like it was missing something other than the Vince Lombardi trophy. There was an empty feeling last season because they didn't have their annual-white-knuckle showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, since the Ravens did not win their division the previous season, and the Patriots other conference foes hailed from the AFC South, the teams never met in the regular season. Since the 2009-2010 season the teams have matched up 8 times, including 4 playoff games. The Patriots went 5-3 in those games, including 2-2 in the playoffs. Oh, and those 2 Ravens victories took place in Foxborough. How many other teams in the league can claim 2 playoff victories in Gillette in the Bill Belichick era? Zero. Oh, and let's not forget that the Ravens were a Lee Evans drop and a Billy Cundiff shank away in the 2011-2 AFC Championship. They also dominated a large portion of the 2014-5 championship game until the Patriots mounted a miracle second half comeback (For the record for those of you that believe the Broncos are the Patriots real kryptonite, Denver has lost 5 contests straight at The Razor including a blowout loss in the divisional round in the 2011-2 season). It seems like since the 2007 season, when the Ravens went toe to toe with the Patriots and nearly gave them their only regular season loss, they truly believe they can and will beat the Patriots no matter what time, what place. Realistic Patriot fans know this and fear their rival for this very reason.
The 2014-5 Ravens squad was riddled with injuries as 22 players finished the year on the IR as the team limped to a 5-11 record. The Ravens lost 9 games by 8 or fewer points. Their 2 blowout losses back-to-back to Seattle and the Chiefs came with 3rd string QB Jimmy Clausen at the helm, which is a valid excuse for any team not to compete in the league.
Baltimore made just a few offseason moves in order to get back into contention again, largely because their salary cap situation prevented them from making a big splash in free agency. On offense, both WR Mike Wallace and TE Ben Watson were signed to improve the passing game for QB Joe Flacco, who is coming back from knee surgery that ended his season early last November. Flacco's bloated contract is arguably the team's biggest obstacle for their cap situation. In the offseason, the team improved their cap situation by guaranteeing Flacco's contract for the next 3 years, thereby saving the team about $6 million in cap space.They hope these transactions along with a relatively weak schedule should help them stand in the Patriots way as the prefer. However, let's be honest . . . Flacco really hasn't lived up to the massive contract he signed after he led his team to the promised land just 3 seasons ago.
Flacco's protection took a hit when the Ravens lost guard Keleche Osemele to the Raiders in the offseason. The team chose rookie Ronnie Stanley at tackle out of Notre Dame, but that won't offset the loss of Osemele. The Ravens also couldn't run the ball last year either with the team rushing only 92.4 yards per game. They made no major upgrade at running back outside of drafting rookie Kenneth Dixon out of Louisiana Tech in the 4th round, but the latter projects to be more of a third down back.
Other notable draft picks include 2nd rounder =LB Kamalei Correa out of Boise State and he may battle for a starting job. In the third round the team chose DE Bronson Kaufusi out of BYU to offset the loss of Chris Canty, who was a salary cap casualty. In all, the team chose 11 players to fill many of the holes vacated by players over the past few seasons to retirement and free agency.
On defense, statistically, the team fared well vs. the league in total yards (10th), passing yards (8th), and rushing yards (12th), but were 24th in points allowed, largely due to big plays that killed the team in several games. The team needs to improve its cornerback play if they hope to contain the league's best passing offenses. Last year, this group wasn't very good at all.
One constant that remains is head coach John Harbaugh. Despite his unlikable pedigree to many New England fans, no one can question this man's coaching ability overall . . . especially in big games. As noted above, since the team was competitive in almost all of its games despite some major injuries shows a lot about the team's attitude and Harbaugh's leadership. While the Ravens should improve this season, but as it stands today they aren't a lock to make the playoffs. But you can be assured that when they visit Foxborough on December 12th, they will come to play, to compete, and to show the Patriots some looks they didn't anticipate on both sides of the ball.