32 teams in 32 days: Baltimore
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 30, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 5-11 (275-384)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-7
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 5-11
All-time franchise record: 96-95-1 (.503)
Playoff record: 5-3 (.625)
Last five seasons: 43-37 (.538)
Best game of 2007: 27-24 home loss to New England (Week 13). It was that kind of a season for Baltimore – a moral victory was their best effort of the year (although the Ravens were actually quite demoralized by the loss, as evidenced by the three straight lifeless losses that followed, including one to 1-15 Miami). The Ravens became the second team in two weeks to threaten New England's perfect run, outgaining the Patriots and coming one penalty flag (and a few mental outbursts) short of winning the game. Baltimore had only one Quality Win, a meaningless Week 17 defeat of Pittsburgh.
Silly-season activity: The Ravens planned well for the 2008 season. They lost no key players from last year's roster, and added none. The probable loss of LT Johnathan Ogden to retirement will be the only blow.
Strength: Run defense. So, what's more important, stopping the run or stopping the pass? Well, Baltimore was No. 1 in run defense, allowing a very stingy 2.8 YPC (one of the top 10 figures of the Super Bowl Era). But they were 24th in Defensive Passer Rating ... and 22nd in points allowed. Still, that run D is a special group, and the combo of NT Kelly Gregg/DL Haloti Ngata is as good as anyone's.
Weakness: Passing game. The Ravens ran the ball well last year, but could do nothing through the air. They were 28th in pass plays of 25+ yards, and they were 29th in Passing Yards Per Attempt (5.09). The return of Todd Heap (six starts in 2007) will be welcomed.
Most underrated player: LB Ray Lewis. No question about it. Simply the fact that a good chunk of NFL Nation thinks he's "overrated" makes him underrated. Anyone who wants to suggest that Lewis is no longer a great player should simper at the feet of the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Lewis is the heart of the most consistently excellent run defense in the NFL. The names around Lewis have changed, but the Ravens have throttled the run for a solid decade with him in the middle.
Unit on the rise: Offensive line. The Ravens have six linemen on the roster that were picked in the top-three rounds since 2005. That's a lot of draft power toward the O-line, and even with the loss of Odgen Baltimore's line will be expected to improve in 2008.
2007 Draft grade: B-. Rookie first-round G Ben Grubbs and third-round T Marshall Yanda both started 12 of 16 games, and the Ravens were a decent 19th on the Offensive Hog Index. Third-rounder Yamon Figurs was a hit as a return man, with a TD on punt and kick returns.
2008 Draft power: 1st (8), 2nd (38), 4th (102), 6th (164), 7th (197) (Note: Baltimore will likely receive supplemental picks in the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th rounds)
General Draft strategy: The Ravens are draft-day geniuses, plain and simple. The Ravens started 10 homegrown No. 1 picks last year, a number you just don't see in the NFL these days. The Ravens have made as many draft deals as any team, and have chosen more than a dozen "second-day stars" over the past 10 years. With a need for QB down the road and three-fourths of their secondary in their 30s this year, it'll be interesting to see how they go with the No. 8 pick.
Youth/experience: The Ravens come off like an old team, and they are. The Ravens are top heavy with their older players – several key guys are on the wrong side of 30. This is rarely a good thing in the NFL unless your young players are dynamite – which remains to be seen with this franchise.
Coaching: Bringing in a new head coach was a no-brainer for Baltimore, and they didn't just go another way – they went miles out of the box. First-time head coach John Harbaugh has one of the oddest resumes of any head coach: 20 years of special teams coaching, college and pro, then, BOOM, head job. He must have turned in a hell of an interview. At the very least, he brings a different energy than the caustic Brian Billick did. Harbaugh also has two of the most high-profile coordinators in the league to work with, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. It's worth noting that as poor as the Dolphins were under Cameron in 2007, they actually improved their PPG from 2006 despite a rotating cast of washouts. Ryan will be in his 10th year in Baltimore, his fourth as DC, and has consistently been a part of tough defenses.
Overview: The Ravens will rely heavily on veteran talents (WR Derrick Mason, TE Todd Heap, DT Kelly Gregg, CB Samari Rolle, CB Chris McCallister, LB Ray Lewis) to have healthy and productive seasons in 2008. But they need their most beaten old dog, 35-year-old QB Steve McNair, to at least be able to perform his old tricks. If he can approximate his 2006 season (82.5 rating), there's reason to believe this team can be closer to 13-3 (2006) than 5-11 (2007). But even if the veterans come through, there's still the question of whether the young, unproven playes – mostly on offense – can rise to the level where they were drafted. That's a lot of question marks, enough to consider them a non-factor in the cut-throat AFC North until further notice.
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