Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Ravens regular-season wrap-up
By Jamison Hensley
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 5
Preseason Power Ranking: 8
Ray Rice's explosiveness and versatility made the Ravens' offense tick.
Biggest surprise: First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano vowed to "wreak havoc" when he took the job. But few could have imagined this drastic turnaround. Pagano went back to the aggressive blitzes that defined the Baltimore defense for a decade. The Ravens attacked quarterbacks and ripped the ball away from offenses. Pagano took over a defense that set a team record for fewest sacks in a season (27) and turned it into one that finished first in the AFC in sacks (48). Terrell Suggs led the pressure up front and is a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Lardarius Webb was the team's most improved player on defense as well as its best cornerback.
Biggest disappointment: The Ravens should be the top seed in the AFC and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after going undefeated for the first time at home and in the AFC North. But Baltimore fell shy of that goal because of a lack of focus. The Ravens struggled to beat the teams they were supposed to beat on the road. Baltimore went 2-4 away from home against teams that had a losing record at the time. The most embarrassing losses were at Jacksonville and Seattle. Sloppy play continually got the Ravens in trouble. In four road losses, Baltimore has taken the ball away twice while turning it over eight times (minus-six ratio).
Biggest need: Drafting Torrey Smith in the second round was a move in the right direction for Joe Flacco and the Baltimore passing attack. But the Ravens fell short of expectations, finishing 19th in passing and 20th in completions over 40 yards. The problem is a lack of playmakers who can stretch the field. Trading a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for Lee Evans looks like a mistake at this point. There is potential, however, with tight end Ed Dickson. Still, when LaQuan Williams is being used as a third receiver this year, that's a sign that the Ravens need more quality wide receivers.
Team MVP: Ray Rice's value can be measured by how the Ravens win games. In 12 victories this season, Rice has averaged 21 carries for 100.7 yards rushing. In four losses, he has averaged nine carries for 38.8 yards. Rice's strength is his vision and versatility. With the ability to beat defenses as a runner and a receiver, he produced an NFL-best 2,068 total yards and set a team record with 15 touchdowns. The Ravens wouldn't be the AFC's second seed if not for Rice's big plays.
Tough decision: Ray Lewis has slowed toward the end of the regular season, and it could either be age finally catching up to him (he's 36 years old) or the lingering effects of a toe injury. Whatever the reason, the Ravens have to seriously think about Lewis' role next season. He prides himself on being an every-down player, but it could be time to limit him on third downs to save the wear and tear on his body. This will be a sensitive issue moving forward.