September 04, 2017

BALTIMORE (AP) There may come a time this season when the Baltimore Ravens take advantage of their speedy receivers, bullish running back Terrance West, and the guile of 10-year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco.

Until then, the Ravens will rely upon what has long been their most formidable weapon: a fierce, unrelenting defense.

Soon after Baltimore staggered to an 8-8 record in 2016, general manager Ozzie Newsome began working to fortify a defense that performed well until the final month. Then injuries and a lack of depth ruined the Ravens' bid to win the AFC North.

Newsome retained 335-pound tackle Brandon Williams with a $52.5 million, five year contract, and signed free agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.

At the NFL draft, Newsome selected cornerback Marlon Humphrey out of Alabama with the 16th overall pick. Still not satisfied, his next three picks were also defensive players, each of whom ultimately ended up on the 53-man roster.

With Flacco nursing a bad back and operating behind a thin line, Baltimore will use a tried-and-true formula in its bid to return to the playoffs after two straight misses.

''Play great on defense, play unbelievable special teams, and play solid on offense. That's going to be the secret for us to win,'' safety Eric Weddle said. ''Don't turn the ball over. Create turnovers. Play sound defense, no big plays. Whoever we're playing against, it doesn't matter.''

Flacco missed the entire preseason, during which the Ravens went 4-0 while allowing just 32 points. Flacco is back behind center now, and his job in the opener Sunday at Cincinnati will be to get the ball to newcomer Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace or Breshad Perriman.

Mostly, though, Flacco needs to protect the ball. If that means setting up field goals for two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker, well, so be it.

''The history of the Ravens shows that you play great defense, you run the ball, you don't turn the ball over, you win and you'll have a chance at the Super Bowl,'' Weddle concluded.

Some things to know about the 2017 Ravens:

WARM SEAT: After missing the postseason in three of the past four years, coach John Harbaugh was perceived to be on the hot seat if Baltimore again comes up short.

The pressure waned a bit last week when owner Steve Bisciotti extended Harbaugh's contract a year through 2019, but that's not going to change the coach's demeanor in his 10th season.

''Most successful people understand that you better be urgent every single day about what you do,'' he said.

His record speaks for itself: 95-64, including 10-5 in the playoffs and one shiny Super Bowl ring.

INJURY CONCERNS: The Ravens limped through the preseason, losing several key players that could end up testing the team's depth well into December.

Baltimore enters the season without tight ends Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gillmore; offensive linemen Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa; cornerback Tavon Young; linebacker Albert McClellan; running back Kenneth Dixon; and receiver Tim White.

FLACCO FACTOR: A year ago, Flacco was coming off knee surgery. At least he got to test the knee during the preseason in 2016, which makes his back injury potentially more troublesome.

Flacco didn't take a snap on the practice field until Saturday, and hasn't played in a game since Jan. 1.

''It's been a weird situation the last few weeks, because it's just something you have to wait out,'' he said upon his return.

Flacco is coming off a middling season in which he threw 15 interceptions, second most of his career, and was sacked 33 times.

WOODHEAD ON BOARD: Newsome didn't spend all his free agent money on defensive players. The addition of Danny Woodhead gives Flacco a solid moving target out of the backfield.

The 32-year-old Woodhead is coming off an ACL injury that limited him to two games last season, but he's ready to go for a team he used to torment as a member of the Patriots.

''Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'll be ready for,'' he said.

OH LINE: Newsome traded for two offensive linemen last week, a surefire indication he recognizes the team's most significant shortcoming.

The departure of free agent Rick Wagner, who started 16 games at right tackle last year, leaves the Ravens scrambling to fill holes.

Baltimore needs a healthy Marshal Yanda at guard and Ronnie Stanley at left tackle to give Flacco the protection he requires and to open holes for West.

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