With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.
One year removed from their second Super Bowl title, the Baltimore Ravens fell apart in a few directions, stumbling to 8-8 and continuing a streak that goes back to the 2006 Steelers: no defending NFL champ has won a playoff game the following season. Losing Ray Lewis to retirement and Ed Reed to the vagaries of free agency hurt in an inspirational sense, but the main problem for the 2013 Ravens was a rushing attack that fell off a cliff. Baltimore went from sixth in Football Outsiders' offensive line and rushing metrics in 2012 to dead last in '13. It was a combined failure of the line and the backs, not to mention a misunderstanding of what made that formerly potent offense go -- the Ravens went from a two-back system 48 percent of the time in 2012 to 25 percent in '13, leaving Ray Rice and his compadres without the fullback blocking they needed, and saddling Joe Flacco without the kind of pass protection he required. Flacco was also less efficient as a result, and while the team hopes the additions of veteran receiver Steve Smith and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will shore up those issues, it wasn't prepared for an offseason in which just about everyone who runs the ball found himself in some sort of negative off-field incident.
From Rice's alleged assault against his then-fiancee and now wife, to rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro's recent Virginia arrest for breaking a taxicab window, to Bernard Pierce getting himself thrown out of a Maryland club along with teammate Jacoby Jones for reportedly being too intoxicated ... well, there's not a lot of depth on that depth chart. In more ways than one. This season the largest issue, perhaps more so than the holes on the field, may be dealing with a discipline and commitment issue that shows up on the field in subtle ways. Head coach John Harbaugh needs to get a grip on the problem -- and soon -- before the Ravens can be expected to return to any sort of glory.
Offseason grade: D
Best acquisition: Steve Smith, WR.
In 2013, Flacco's primary target was Torrey Smith, who caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns. Smith meshes well with Flacco's preference for the deep ball, but the Baltimore passing game suffered for lack of reliable slot targets -- Marlon Brown led the team with 55 slot targets and 33 receptions, but he also had five drops and a 60 percent catch rate. Adding Smith on a three-year deal after the veteran was jettisoned by the Panthers was a twofold move. The hope is that Smith will bring some mental toughness and resolve to a team that needs it, and move that toughness to the field as a slot and outside option for Flacco, who really missed Anquan Boldin in 2013. “When you look at the Ravens, they’ve had a great amount of success integrating older players and younger players, fusing them together and understanding the right combination,” Smith said after the signing. “That part was very intriguing for me, and it also brings a challenge that I’m up for. I love the uniforms. I just love everything that it is to be a Baltimore Raven, so I’m looking forward to experiencing it all.”
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Biggest loss: Arthur Jones, DL.
Jones signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Colts, who feature a similar set of fronts to the ones the Ravens have employed over the years. He'll be missed as a pass rusher and run stopper, especially with his ability to move around the inside of the formation based on the situation. Second-year man Brandon Williams will be charged with replacing Jones, but it will be a tough go -- last season, Jones amassed four sacks, five quarterback hits and 15 quarterback hurries, along with 30 total stops. Williams picked up one sack and a few stops in seven games as he worked through a toe injury.
"I've had a good offseason," Williams said in late May. "I've been working out doing cardio and a bunch of other stuff. I'm lighter and leaner. I've gotten a little stronger."
Underrated draft pick: Brent Urban, DE, Virginia.
If Williams can't get the job done, it's possible that Urban, who was selected in the fourth round, could be the future at the end position. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound defender grew up playing hockey in Mississauga, Ontario, but switched sports when he found that he was getting penalized too often -- with his size as a primary issue. Urban amassed 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013 and might have been selected higher were it not for a high-ankle sprain that was aggravated in the Senior Bowl. Urban is still putting it all together when it comes to the specifics of his position, but he has a great deal of athletic potential.
"It’s hard to find guys that size, first and foremost," general manager Ozzie Newsome said May 10, after Urban had been picked. "So, from that standpoint, he’s a true fit. When you look at those five-techniques, they’ve got to be … [the] best guys are typically 6-5 or 6-6. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s a pretty athletic kid. He’s getting better and better."
Looming question for training camp: Can Baltimore's offensive line rebound from a terrible year?
With Michael Oher's departure to Tennessee, the right tackle spot is expected to be manned by second-year player Ricky Wagner, at least at this point. Jeremy Zuttah, who had a decent year for Tampa Bay in 2013, will take over at center. Outside of left tackle Eugene Monroe and right guard Marshal Yanda, there isn't a lot of established talent on a Ravens line that clearly struggled to maintain any manner of consistency in 2013. Left guard Kelechi Osemele missed the last nine games of the season with a herniated disc in his back, but is expected to be ready for the season-opener. He allowed six quarterback hits and seven quarterback hurries in just seven games last season.
However it happens, the Ravens can't have another nightmarish rushing season like they did last year. Not only is Kubiak's offense dependent on a solid run game, but also Flacco was far better when running play action last year than when he wasn't. Unless this line can turn it around, the Ravens may well be flirting with .500 -- or worse -- in 2014.