Offseason Breakdown: Baltimore Ravens
With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.
The Ravens have established themselves as one of the NFL's more reliable franchises in recent years, with four consecutive playoff appearances and back-to-back 12-win seasons.
But is this it?
Take the Super Bowl XXXV win out of the equation -- and this will be the 12th season since then -- and the Ravens face a lot of the same questions that the Falcons do in the NFC. On paper, the talent is there. It's always been there on the defensive side of things, even as the clock ticks on Baltimore's veterans, and there are enough playmakers on offense to keep up now too.
Most eyes tend to fall on QB Joe Flacco, who has a 44-20 regular-season record in his four years but has come up shy of the Super Bowl each time. Can he and the Ravens finally get back to the promised land this year?
2011 Record: 12-4 (first place, AFC North), lost to Patriots in AFC title game
Team Strengths: RB, TE, DL, LB
Team Weaknesses: WR, OL depth
Three Things to Watch:
1. How much do Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have left in the tank?: It's become a bit of an annual tradition for Reed to say he's unsure if he'll return to the field, as he did again this offseason. Each passing season makes it more likely that the 33-year-old safety actually does walk away. Same goes for Lewis, 37, who said in 2011 that he'd retire if the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
That duo has been the heart and soul of Baltimore's defense for a decade-plus, but the end of line is much closer than the beginning. Lewis missed four games to injury last year, for example, and Reed sat out six in 2010. The Ravens need both players healthy and on the field or it will be hard for their defense to maintain its dominance.
2. Is Torrey Smith ready to be a star?: Because of how the Ravens use their tight ends and Ray Rice (assuming he ever signs his franchise tender or a long-term deal), the need isn't necessarily there for a dominant, No. 1 receiver. And yet, Baltimore has to be frustrated with how the production has dropped off at that spot on the field since Derrick Mason went for three straight 1,000-yard campaigns from 2007-09.
Anquan Boldin has been good but not great in his two seasons in Baltimore. He, and the entire offense, could get a boost if Torrey Smith continues to develop as he did in his rookie year. Smith made 50 grabs for 841 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 and showed off some serious deep-ball abilities. The Ravens have to hope that was just a sign of things to come, and not the ceiling for Smith's production.
3. Can the offensive line hold it together?: When you think of the Ravens, you think of a team that can win in the trenches. But the offensive line struggled at times last season -- mainly because of up-and-down performances from tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher. The talent and experience is there in the starting lineup, but there's not a lot of depth, which is why Baltimore used draft picks on Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski.
Outlook: The Steelers just keep on keeping on, and the Bengals are one of the NFL's up-and-coming teams, so Baltimore has its work cut out for it in the AFC North. Getting Rice and Reed back on board in time for Week 1 would obviously help a lot, but the Ravens also have to overcome some sneakily big free-agent losses -- Grubbs, Johnson and Redding were all contributors. Baltimore probably will enter the season as the AFC North favorite and one of the conference's legit Super Bowl contenders. Where the Ravens go from there depends on how consistent they can be on both sides of the ball.