Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Ravens regular-season wrap-up
By James Walker
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: No. 4
Preseason Power Ranking: No. 6
Billy Cundiff had an outstanding season, making almost 90 percent of his FG attempts and tying an NFL record for touchbacks.
Biggest surprise: Kicker Billy Cundiff entered training camp battling for his job after the Ravens signed Shayne Graham. But after a competitive battle, Baltimore chose Cundiff, who had a career year and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Cundiff was solid on field goals, making 26 of 29. But he really excelled on kickoffs, where he tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks. Cundiff's performance on kickoffs essentially became Baltimore's 12th man on defense.
Biggest disappointment: Last year Baltimore had one of the best offensive tackle combinations in the NFL in Jared Gaither and Michael Oher. But that tandem was split up this season -- Gaither never saw the field. Gaither had a poor season that probably will be his last with the Ravens. He was unhappy with his contract, then showed up well under his playing weight, which upset the organization. Then Gaither never got on track and injured his back, which eventually landed him on injured reserve. Baltimore's pass protection has been inconsistent this year -- the team has had trouble replacing Gaither at right tackle.
Biggest need: The Ravens have one of the most stacked rosters in the NFL. So there are not a lot of glaring needs. Depth on the offense line could be a place to start. Gaither is not expected to return to Baltimore, so right tackle could be a top priority in the offseason. Center Matt Birk, 34, also is getting long in the tooth and it's unknown how much longer he wants to play. Another pass-rushing linebacker to help Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs (11 sacks) would be nice. But that's more of a luxury than a major hole in Baltimore's defense.
Team MVP: This race is very close, because there are probably three or four viable candidates for team MVP. But this year we give the slight nod to quarterback Joe Flacco, who made strides in his third year and threw for 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Suggs, safety Ed Reed and defensive lineman Haloti Ngata also received strong consideration.
Free-agent watch: First and foremost, the Ravens need to take care of Ngata's contract quickly this offseason and make sure he does not get away. Baltimore is expected to make Ngata, a two-time Pro Bowler, one of the NFL's highest-paid defensive linemen, and he will be worth every penny. Fullback Le'Ron McClain is another important free agent, and the Ravens also have to decide on re-signing players such as Josh Wilson, Marshal Yanda and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 2011.