The end of July, for me, has always signaled the approach of my favorite sport; football season. And what better way to spark off football season than with a “Life Under The Scope” column on the hometown team, Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens finished the 2014 season much better than what I expected. At week 10, they were 5-4, last place in the division and without 2 of their starting corners. Despite their inconsistent play throughout the season, they still managed to string along 10 wins and a wild-card victory over AFC North champs and rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For most fans in Baltimore, beating the Steelers in the playoffs is always the mark of a good season.
The Ravens took the Patriots to the wire, missing a trip to the AFC Championship by 3 points, but like I said, expectations weren't very high for that team.
In 2015, I'm not sure where the expectations are.
Usually around this time of the year, the city of Baltimore is buzzing with Raven pride but not this season. Not many people have been sporting Ravens' gear nor have they been speaking on it. One, I still think people are riding the high of the 2013 Super Bowl Parade, but also, no one really knows what to expect from this team. The Ravens are not the Ravens this city is use too. For the first time in franchise history, the offense is the focal point of the team, something that me nor anyone else in this city is accustomed too.
The Ravens offense set a franchise record for most points scored, 405, while QB Joe Flacco, and running back Justin Forsett, had career years. Flacco passed for the 2nd most yards and TDs in franchise history with 3,986 yards and 27 Tds. Flacco also had a passing rating of 90+ for the second time in his career, with a 91.
Justin Forsett, who has made a career in the league as a backup, posted 1,266 yards and 8 Tds, earning himself a trip to his first Pro-Bowl. Forsett emergence was big for the Ravens who lost Ray Rice in the beginning of the season due to his domestic situation. Without Forsett, it's no telling what the running game would have looked liked, having to depend on Bernard Pierce, who hasn't lived up to full expectations.
With a new offensive coordinator, will both players be able to continue that momentum into the 2015 season without missing a beat?
Former Chicago Bears coach, Mark Trestman, will replace Greg Kubiak as the play-caller for the Ravens. When Trestman was hired by the Bears in 2013, he was dubbed as an offensive genius but it never translated into a successful career as a head coach, being fired after two seasons.
Trestman will now get to focus on one aspect of the ball, which I think will be great for him. When you look at his resume, it does have offensive guru written all over it.
So far this offseason, Trestman has said that he wants to build off of what is already there and make players better individually. Forsett will benefit most from Trestman offense that involves the running back in the passing game. Matt Forte last season caught 102 passes for 808 yards in Trestman's offense, along with 1,000 yards rushing. Of course Forte's success does not mean automatic success for Justin Forsett, but the opportunities will be there for him to flourish.
As for Flacco, I would like to see what kind of relationship he builds with Trestman. Both are laid back professionals, so I don't expect any rifts between them. Joe has proven that having multiple coordinators will not stop his success, this being his 4th since 2012, playing with two during the Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2013. I think if he could build a relationship with Trestman, he could propel himself into the same discussion as the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees.
As for the defense, they can either be really good or disappointing.
The Ravens had one of the worst secondaries in the league last season. Yes injuries played a part in that but you also have to add inexperience. After Jimmy Smith went down with his toe injury, the Ravens' secondary had more holes in it than swiss cheese, albeit, they were still ranked in top-ten in total defense.
Luckily the Ravens had the best defensive line in the league. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil combined for 25 sacks, Dumervil leading the team with 17. Then rotating in the middle was Haloti Ngata, Brandon Williams, and Timmy Jernigan, all three with a combined weight of 969lbs. That group of a defensive linemen helped protect C.J Mosley and allowed him to roam free and become one of the best rookies in the league.
Ngata will be missing from that group along with Pernell McPhee, who contributed 7 sacks last season. Still I worry about the secondary. The Ravens acquired former Texan, safety Kendrick Lewis and former Patriot, safety Kyle Arrington. Both players add some experience to the defense, but I think a lot of the success of the secondary relies on the health of Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
Webb played a total of 13 games last season but he didn't look healthy, getting beat on a lot of plays and missing open field tackles, which is uncharacteristic for him. Jimmy Smith was having a career year but only played 8 games due to a foot injury. Without these two playing at a high level, I'm not sure how much faith I have in that secondary.
Last season I spoke on the Ravens' lost identity and I still feel that way. I'm not really sure what kind of team this is and I haven't known since 2013. Even though the defense was top notch last year, they didn't make plays in the clutch situations, which is opposite of the 2013 defense that was ranked low but made the crucial stops.
Offensively, I think they will be better but some questions will have to wait to be answered, like will Steve Smith be able to play at that level once again? Can 1st round pick Brandon Perriman break the Ravens' receiver curse? And how effective can rookie tight end be if – and when – Dennis Pitta can't return?
Overall, I think the Ravens will have a similar season to last year. They didn't make any moves that suggest that they got better. Losing Ngata was big loss to me but I don't think it will be too detrimental. The Ravens' success relies on the running game and consistency. With 5 of the first 7 games on the road, the Ravens can not afford to have a slow start or it will be a long depressing season in Baltimore.