Ravens intend to run more, defend pass better in 2017
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Once considered a perennial contender, the Baltimore Ravens have gone two years without a winning season and reached the playoffs only once since 2012.
After going 5-12 last season, the Ravens flirted with a postseason berth before dropping three of their last four games to finish 8-8.
Something's got to change if Baltimore is to reclaim its position among the NFL's elite.
Though coach John Harbaugh conceded Tuesday that the Ravens desperately need to upgrade their roster - most notably at cornerback - he will stick with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
''My heart, my gut and my head says this is the best way to go,'' Harbaugh said.
Mornhinweg was promoted from quarterbacks coach to his current position in early October after Harbaugh dismissed Marc Trestman. Despite the shift, Baltimore finished 17th in total offense and was ranked 28th in yards rushing.
Joe Flacco threw for a career-high 4,317 yards and had 20 touchdown passes, but the Ravens averaged 42 passes and 23 rushes per game - an imbalance Harbaugh wants to see corrected in 2017.
''Marty believes in running the football, and I believe in running the football,'' Harbaugh said. ''We have not run the football well enough or enough, really, for the last two years. That has to change, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with being good at it and doing it a lot more than we do it.''
Terrance West led the team with 774 yards rushing and rookie Kenneth Dixon had 382. Harbaugh expects both to be back next season, and hopes to add another couple of backs to the mix.
Harbaugh would also like to see Flacco, the 2012 Super Bowl MVP, perform better in his 10th NFL season. His paycheck this season ranks third among NFL quarterbacks and restricted the Ravens' movement within the salary cap.
''We have a quarterback, and he's in that level of compensation, so we need to get him playing at that level,'' Harbaugh said. ''We need to put a group and a scheme around him that puts him in that place.''
Some priorities for the Ravens this offseason:
FREE AGENT SHUFFLE: Baltimore lists 12 unrestricted free agents, most notably nose tackle Brandon Williams, receiver Kamar Aiken, right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
The Ravens can't keep them all, especially because they're being squeezed by the salary cap and have many holes to fill.
''Everything's on the table in terms of how we can improve,'' Harbaugh said, ''and the financial part is a big piece of it.''
CORNERBACKS NEEDED: Baltimore's defense was ranked No. 1 through Week 12. Over the final four weeks, however, the Ravens allowed an average of 28.5 points per game.
That shortcoming can be attributed in part because of the ankle injury that sidelined Jimmy Smith and left journeyman Shareece Wright and rookie Tavon Young as the starting cornerbacks.
''We need to add more corners. There's no question about it,'' Harbaugh said. ''If we can do that, that's going to dramatically impact our defense.''
HEALTHY FLACCO: Coming off a knee injury that ended his 2015 season after 10 games, Flacco didn't miss a start, but admittedly was not at his best.
''When you are only seven or eight months out of an injury, no matter what it is, there is going to be a growing process for it,'' Flacco said. ''This offseason will definitely help with that.''
BOUNCE-BACK YEAR: The Ravens have some decisions to make at tight end.
Dennis Pitta led the Ravens with 86 catches, a statistic that is noteworthy because he was returning from a second hip operation that sidelined him for the entire 2015 season.
''I'll be able to look back on this season and be proud of what I was able to accomplish, based on my circumstances coming in,'' Pitta said. ''It's obvious that as a team, we fell short of a lot of our goals. But if I can take away anything, it will be that I was able to come back successfully and will be able to build on this moving forward.''
Pitta's contribution was necessary because the Ravens were thin at the position, losing Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams to injury. In addition, Nick Boyle was suspended for using performance-enhancing substances.
If Pitta, 31, is to return, it will be with a salary cut.
CLASSY ROOKIES: The Ravens hope their 2017 class is as productive as the current class. Ronnie Stanley (drafted sixth overall) was solid at left tackle, Dixon ran hard, Young played decently on defense and special teams, and Alex Lewis was a fixture on the offensive line before sustaining an ankle injury in November.
''I feel like every single one of those guys is going to be a good player,'' Harbaugh said, ''and a number of those guys have proven it already.''
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