The Baltimore Ravens:
Offense: For the second straight postseason, the Baltimore Ravens lost a playoff came due to an aging, mediocre wideout dropping a crucial ball. In 2011 it was TJ Houshmenzadeh and last season it was Lee Evans. The Evans drop was a bigger deal because it was a touchdown grab that would have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Knowing all that; that the Ravens were one dropped pass away from the Super Bowl last season coupled with the fact that their offense remains intact from last year wouldn't you think the Ravens are every bit as much of a contender this season? I don't think so, and it's because of one offensive change they didn't make; at the offensive coordinator position. Cam Cameron hindered the Ravens offense once again with conservative playcalling and over-reliance on the running game. The guy did this with the Chargers too and I'm not sure why he's securely kept his job. I think Cameron has a lot to do with Joe Flacco not being a better quarterback than he could be as well. Flacco is consistently good but not great. He has passed for over 3,600 yards the past two seasons and doesn't turn the ball over that much. The problem is, Flacco has all of the ability to be a dangerous, elite QB but has yet to make that leap. Flacco frankly needs to loosen up a bit and be willing to take more chances. Ball protection is good, but reluctance to sling it out is a different story. Flacco still relies too much on dump off passes and short reads but I think frankly that has a lot to do with Cameron's play-calling. He's good enough to get the Ravens to the playoffs and win games but just hasn't quite taken that extra step yet.
Flacco's weapons are solid though. Ray Rice, who just signed a 5 year contract extension, is one of the top running backs in the game. He's versatile, fast, is a great receiver, blocks well and can do anything asked of him. Rice will continue to be the Ravens top offensive weapon in 2012. Rookie Wide Receiver Torrey Smith emerged as a legit deep threat in his rookie season last year, catching 50 passes for 841 yards and 7 TD's (plus another in the playoffs). Smith is a bit of a one-dimensional, straight-line, speed-demon but he's a very good one and should have some more versatility to his game in year two. The rest of the Ravens WR corps is loaded with questions marks. Anquan Boldin still has some game and he played very strong to close out last season but he turns 32 this season and is injury prone. 2011 Rookie Tandon Doss didn't catch a single pass last season but also battled hernia problems. If he's healthy, they'll look for him to contribute quite a bit this season. Rookie WR Tommy Streeter is fast but very raw and will likely have quite a bit of adjustment time. The Ravens have been running two TE sets with third-year men Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Dickson is a liability as a blocker but has good hands and Pitta came on strong at the end of last year. Both men will need to step it up even more to make this offense effective.
All is not great on the Ravens offensive line either. They have a 33 year old LT, a 35 year old C and a right tackle who gave up 11 sacks last season (Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk and Michael "The Blind Side" Oher respectively). McKinnie is not only old but has battled some severe weight problems (he was hovering around 400 pounds when they signed him last season). Birk remains a very good center but he's turning 36 this year and can't keep it up. The Ravens hope to have drafted his replacement in fourth-rounder Gino Gradkowski. Michael Oher is a good player but was guilty of a lot of mistakes last year. Hopefully for the Ravens he can step it up again because he was one of the better RT's in the league before that. LG Marshal Yanda is one of the best players at his position in the league. Right Guard will remain a bit of a question mark after they lost Ben Grubbs to the Saints in the offseason. I suspect that rookie Kelechi Osemele will be the top contender for that spot but he will be pushed by Jah Reid and Bobbie Williams. This overview of the offense may have sounded fairly negative as I still think they can be good enough again this year to contend but good enough in the NFL is generally not good enough.
The Ravens Defense suffered a major blow this offseason when 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs suffered a torn achilles. Suggs remains optimistic that he can play later in the year but with that type of injury it's highly doubtful. It will be hard to match Suggs' production from last season (14 sacks and 7 forced fumbles). This remains a very good defense however and they were top 5 against both the pass and run last year. Some might argue that it starts with Ray Lewis but those who know better will tell you it starts with arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL; Haloti Ngata. Ngata is an absolute beast and excels in just about everything he does. He can line up in any position, cave the pocket, eat blockers, rush the passer, bat balls and people don't run near him. Ngata makes it easier for all 10 other guys on the field. Joining Ngata on the D-Line is massive Terrence Cody, who is still finding his away as a 3-4 NT and Pernell McPhee who faired pretty well last season (5.5 sacks).
The Linebackers remain solid. Ray Lewis, at age 37 now, certainly isn't what he once was but still played very strongly in 2011. That could stop at any moment given his age but I wouldn't bet against him. Jameel McClain joins Lewis at the other ILB position. McClain isn't a very dynamic player but he excels at stopping the run. There will be a void left by Suggs' injury but the Ravens got a steal in the 2012 NFL Draft by getting Alabama's Courtney Upshaw in the second round. Upshaw is a fiery competitor and excellent pass-rusher who manhandled the SEC last season. He fell on draft day due to size concerns but a team like Baltimore is the ideal landing spot for him. It wouldn't surprise me if he leads the team in sacks this year. On the other side at OLB is Paul Kruger who managed 5.5 sacks in limited playing time last season. He'll be asked to contribute more this year.
The Ravens have a very good secondary as well. All-Pro FS Ed Reed is 34 and hasn't shown up to practic e yet this offseason, but this is the third year in a row he's done just that and continues to play at a very high level, much like Ray Lewis. Bernard Pollard starts next to Reed at SS. Pollard is excellent in the box but struggles in coverage (not a huge issue in this defense). Lardarius Webb had an amazing season at cornerback last year intercepting the ball 8 times and allowing zero touchdowns. He's one of the best corners in the league and teams will be avoiding him next season. 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Smith will look to start opposite Webb this year. Smith is very talented but barely contributed last season, likely because of struggles to grasp the system. With a full offseason, he'll be in a better position to contribute.
Overall: I just don't feel the Ravens did enough to improve their overall talent level this offseason. They are rock solid and will probably nab another wildcard spot but they will once again be hampered by conservative play-calling, over-reliance on Ray Rice and again players in key positions. They just need more work to do to get over that hump at get to the Super Bowl again.