Ravens 2009 Season Preview

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What a great time of year! The season officially kicks off Thursday night when the Steelers host Titans. And with that, it is time for my season preview for the 2009 Baltimore Ravens. The expectations haven’t been this high for the Ravens since their 2001 campaign, when of course they were defending champions. For the first time in the history of the franchise it seems as if everything is in place: A solid quarterback who not only believes in himself but who also has the belief of his team and everyone in the city. As well as an aggressive, fast, hungry defense (what else is new?). The team also has a great mix of savvy veterans (Derrick Mason, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Trevor Pryce) along with a solid corps of young talent (Ray Rice, Jared Gaither, Tavares Gooden, Michael Oher). But with a tough schedule awaits this confident bunch, led by second year head coach John Harbaugh.

PASS OFFENSE: It was quite a treat to watch quarterback Joe Flacco mature over the course of last year’s season. As the season progressed, one could tell he was becoming more and more comfortable with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook. It was also apparent that he was gaining confidence in his ability to compete at a high level. Some of his worst football came early in the year in weeks 5 and 6 against Indianapolis and Tennessee when he threw a combined 5 interceptions. But he learned from his mistakes, only throwing 5 picks the rest of the season. He quickly became the quarterback that the Ravens needed him to be: a winner. I believe he will learn even more this season; he has all the tools necessary to be a solid NFL quarterback for a years to come. As good as I think Flacco can be, question marks still remain at the wide receiver position and that could hinder the extent to which he can really grow. Derrick Mason is the only target that has proven to be consistent and reliable. Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and free-agent pickup Kelley Washington all have to prove they are capable of being the types of receivers that can be productive and dependable. Todd Heap looked like his old dominant self in the 3rd preseason game at Carolina. To have him and LJ Smith be healthy would be a tremendous complement to the receivers and the running game.

RUSH OFFENSE: The depth at the running back position is something that carried this team last year, in fact statistically the Ravens ran the ball more than any other team in 2008 with 592 rushing attempts. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee will share the workload while Le’Ron McClain will see a dramatic decrease in touches as he must fill in for the departed Lorenzo Neal. There is potential for this unit to be efficient once again since teams must account for the fact that the passing game is a legitimate threat. Stacking the box may shut this group down, but it will come at a cost of giving up big yardage through the air. Rice is versatile and the team likes to use him on screens and flares, something that has never been a strength of McGahee in the past.

OFFENSIVE LINE: This group is vastly underrated. Maybe it is because of their relative youth but this unit did a spectacular job of protecting Flacco last year and allowing the team to run the ball effectively. Last year Jared Gaither quietly and effectively replaced one of the greatest tackles EVER in Jonathan Ogden, which is no small feat. I say quietly because it was hard to notice Ogden was gone. It could have been “Gee, this Gaither kid really needs some work, I wish we still had Ogden” from the fans all year. But Gaither was impressive and did his job wonderfully. He is accompanied by 4th year veteran Ben Grubbs on that left side. New center and former Viking Matt Birk adds veteran leadership to this corps and replaces Jason Brown who was lost to free agency. Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda anchor the right side of this young but skilled unit

D-LINE: The organization is thrilled to have Kelly Gregg and Justin Bannan back for 2009. They both missed the majority of ’08 with injuries. Depth is the name of the game with this group. With players like Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata, Brandon McKinney and Dwan Edwards, fresh legs will be no problem throughout games and the season. Ngata has become one of if not the best nose tackles in the league. He can take up space with his size, get to quarterbacks with his speed, and has shown his abilty to pick off passes on more than a few occasions. He is so versatile, teams have to account for him at all times.

LINEBACKERS: No Bart Scott? No problem. This group has been phenomenal at just saying “Next man up.” for nearly a decade. When Jamie Sharper left after the 2001 season, Adalius Thomas stepped up and eventually filled his shoes. Ray Lewis missed a significant portion of the 2002 season with a dislocated left shoulder, Ed Hartwell filled in beautifully. Hartwell left after the 2004 season, which allowed Mr. Scott to fill in and become the player he is today. When Thomas left after 2006, enter Jarrett Johnson. I know I’m getting a bit repetitive here but my point is, I absolutely refuse to buy the argument that losing Bart Scott all of a sudden hurts this team. Will his presence be missed? Of course! He was a great player! But with Lewis, a young and VERY talented Tavares Gooden, Johnson, and a fellow named Terrell Suggs, I challenge anyone to name a better linebacking corps from top to bottom in the league. In my humblest opinion, it can’t be done.

SECONDARY: Former Maryland Terp and Baltimore native Dominique Foxworth was picked up via free agency. He fills the shoes of Chris McAlister and will start at corner. Fabian Washington will also start. Frank Walker and former Titan Chris Carr will come in on passing downs. Ed Reed, possibly the most dangerous safety in the game today, and Dawan Landry lurk at the safety position. Landry missed most of ’08 after a scary neck injury in week 3. He is back, healthy, and ready. Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski are very capable backups should any injuries occur.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Young Steve Houschka is the team’s new kicker. He showed his skill last year in the game against Houston when he nailed a 54 yard field goal. However will he be reliable in the clutch like Matt Stover was for so many years? Only time will tell. Sam Koch ranked 2nd in the league last year, punting the ball inside the opponents’ 20 yard line 34 times. Chris Carr and rookie Lardarius Webb will handle return duties, replacing Yamon Figurs who was waived in the preseason. Both have explosive speed. Look for Carr to handle most of the kickoffs, while Webb will be geared more towards punt returns.

MONDAY NIGHTS: This year the Ravens have 2 Monday night games, and that could be a problem as they are both on the road (Cleveland, 11/16 and Green Bay, 12/7). Baltimore has had serious trouble winning Monday night games in recent years, particularly on the road. In fact the Ravens have not won a Monday night road game since week 9 of the 2001 season when they beat the Titans 16-10 at Adelphia Coliseum (Now LP Field). The last Monday night game they won at M&T Bank Stadium was during Week 15 of the 2005 campaign when they roughed up Green Bay 48-3. Overall the team is 4-8 on Monday nights.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Ravens are primed to make a Super Bowl run. They made a great run at it last year but fell just short. Logic says there is no reason why they can’t make a similar run this year. Everything is in place. Injuries, or a lack thereof will be huge, as will time of possession, penalties, and turnover margin. This is no new formula for success in the NFL. Teams who control those variables win Super Bowls, it’s that simple. It’s all in the Ravens hands.

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1 Response to “Ravens 2009 Season Preview”


  1. 1 phunley September 9, 2009 at 1:52 am

    Hey Will, glad to see you have a blog up as well. Just a couple thoughts with just a quick read-through:

    1. “I challenge anyone to name a better linebacking corps from top to bottom in the league. In my humblest opinion, it can’t be done.”

    James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley. Don’t get me wrong, the Ravens have a phenomenal group, but I’d say the Steelers are better off.

    2. You can’t talk about the Ravens’ chances for next year without one mention of the loss of Rex Ryan whether you think it will affect them significantly or not. I think they have the talent to overcome it, but it’s something you need to address because it is a question.

    Anyway, good job man, and take a look at mine when you get a chance: phunley.wordpress.com. It’s pretty much the same thing except with a Steelers focus.


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