For the Super Bowl champions, missing out on the playoffs was always going to be a disappointment. Finishing at 8-8 meant the defence of their crown ended early as the team struggled to adapt to life without talismanic figure Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and, perhaps most importantly, salary cap casualty Anquan Boldin who took his talents to San Francisco. In all the Ravens were shorn of eight starters from their Super Bowl winning roster heading into 2013, a record that they would not have been keen to create and a legacy of the huge contract awarded to quarterback Joe Flacco in the offseason. Rebuilding will continue heading into the 2014 season as coach John Harbaugh looks to create a new identity for the Lewis-less Ravens. Having got themselves into a position to pick up a Wild card when at8-6, heavy defeats to the Patriots and Bengals ended their season in December this time around.
Having signed such a monster contract after the Super Bowl success, much was expected of Flacco heading into 2013. His end of season rating of 73.1 simply does not justify the amount of money he is paid. 3912 yards is an acceptable return, but he will need to improve vastly on the 19-22 touchdown to interceptions ratio if the Ravens are to improve next year. On the ground, Ray Rice was a shadow of his former self in managing just 660 yards at a mere 3.1 yards per carry. The Ravens have prided themselves on their ground game and need to address such a pitiful return drastically. Shorn of Boldin, Torrey Smith at last proved to be one bright spot offensively with 65 catches, 1128 yards and 4 scores. Maroln brown chipped in with seven receiving scores but the production of other players was not overly impressive. With 11 games seeing the Ravens failing to score more than 20 points, there is much room for improvement in Baltimore.
In conceding just 22 points per game, the defence did their bit to keep the low scoring offence in with a shot of winning games. They ranked 12th in that category and in terms of yards allowed (335.5 per game), meaning that the unit is less open to criticism than the misfiring offense. Without their spiritual leader in Lewis and veteran safety Reed, other players stepped up to play their part. Daryl Smith recorded 123 tackles, picked off three passes and defended a further 18 to become one of the key players on the team. Lardarius Webb managed to defend a sensational 22 passes, with two picks, and Corey Graham recorded four picks of his own. James Ihedigbo recorded three picks and 101 tackles. Terrel Suggs and Free Agent acquisition Elvis Dumervill recorded 10 and 9.5 sacks respectively, with the impressive Smith chipping in with five of his own. Rookie Matt Elam had a solid first campaign in stepping into the shoes of Reed, racking up 77 tackles and a pick.
Jacoby Jones carried on where he left off in the Super Bowl, averaging 28.8 yards per kick off return (with a score) and 12.5 yards per punt return. Kicker Justin Tucker made 92.7% of a huge 41 Field Goal attempts, including a 61 yarder and a 6 out of 7 success rate from over 50 yards. Sam Koch recorded a net average of 40.9 yards per punt.
John Harbaugh’s Super Bowl success means that a season without the playoffs does not leave his looking anxiously over his shoulder just yet. But with the cut throat nature of the modern NFL, he knows that improvement is needed this time around. With the AFC North looking as competitive as always this will not be easy, but each team can come into the season with realistic expectations of topping the division at the end of week 17.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Securing the services of tackle Eugene Monroe and safety Smith were a big plusses heading into the offseason and the pick up of Steve Smith from the Panthers gives Joe Flacco an explosive weapon to try to exploit. Michael Oher (to Tennessee) and Arthur Jones (to Indianapolis) leave holes to fill on offence and defence.
Expect the Ravens to target a tackle to replace Oher in the draft and then to look at making improvements to the secondary. With Rice’s performance in 2013 so poor it would not be a shock to see Harbaugh look to shake things up at running back and, despite Smith’s arrival, another target for Flacco may help the team too.