2015 Baltimore Ravens Outlook: Joe Playoffs (Again)

2014 Record: 10-6 (3rd place in the AFC North). After handling division rival Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, Baltimore lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions.  Last year marked the third time in four seasons the Ravens and Patriots have met in the playoffs.

Key Losses: DT Haloti Ngota (Traded to Detroit), WR Torrey Smith (Free Agent), TE Owen Daniels (Free Agent)

Key Additions: FS Kendrick Lewis (Free Agent), WR Breshad Perriman (1st round of draft), TE Maxx Williams (2nd round of draft) CB Kyle Arrington (Free Agent), QB Matt Schaub (Free Agent)

Key Questions:

1)  How much improvement will we see from a secondary that gave up 250 passing yards/game last season?

Not only did the Ravens’ secondary get torched left and right, they barely retaliated with just eleven interceptions. This unit is light years away from returning to the heydays of Ed Reed and company, but there are signs of hope.

Lewis is an energizing, big playmaker who had six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and two interceptions for the Texans last season. Another key is the return of Jimmy Smith who was having a Pro Bowl year before a foot sprain in Week 8 landed him on IR. New addition Arrington should find success as the team’s nickel back, though he certainly has the versatility to contribute in other packages.

2)  Will Marc Trestman succeed as Baltimore’s new offensive coordinator?

Trestman is the Ravens fourth offensive coordinator in as many years.  The previous two men to hold the gig– Gary Kubiak and Jim Caldwell – re-entered the head coaching ranks after successful runs in Baltimore. In many ways Kubiak left Trestman a well-oiled machine. Most of the key cogs are well established, and the Ravens have found themselves a stellar multipurpose running back in Justin Forsett.

Though Trestman’s time in Chicago is highlighted by an atrocious defense that inevitably led to his firing, he did wonders on the offensive side. Trestman smartly minimized Jay Cutler’s propensity for error by dialing up a game plan rooted in short, high-percentage passing plays. While Trestman can’t really point to a scoreboard, he can certainly point out that Josh McCown had the NFLs best passer rating from Weeks 6-12 in 2013. Post-Trestman, McCown has returned to his place as a journeyman.

Trestman may slightly tinker with the Ravens offense, and early reports do suggest his playbook is more complicated. But Trestman’s West Coast offense is really just a strain of what Kubiak had already instituted.  The base is there, and this was a great hire by the organization.

3)  What about that receiving corps?

After not coming to terms with Torrey Smith, G.M. Ozzie Newsome looked to the early rounds of the draft to bolster his receivers. Flacco has stated his enthusiasm for the ‘big, powerful’ Perriman, while Williams was considered the top tight end in this draft class.  At 36, the small, but unquestionably powerful Steve Smith is coming off a stellar 1,000-yard receiving season and should provide some more productivity and serve as a leader.

CBS recently ranked the Ravens receiving corps as one of the league’s most improved units. Aside from the aforementioned additions, it really boils down to depth. 6’6 rookie Darren Waller, who ran a 4.46 40 is an intriguing deep weapon for Flacco. Third-year man Marlon Brown has already racked up a nice collection of big plays.

On a down note, tight end Dennis Pitta, one of Flacco’s favorite targets before fracturing his hip for the second time last September was placed on the PuP list.

Key Games: Week 1 at Denver; Week 2 at Oakland (John Harbaugh announced the Ravens will stay on the West Coast in between these first two road games, and it will be interesting to see how the strategy pans out.); Week 4 at Pittsburgh

Prediction: 12-4.  The Ravens are poised for their seventh post-season berth in eight years. The key to this team is continuity and it starts with an offensive line that remained pat from last year. As noted, Trestman shouldn’t do anything too dramatic to the offensive playbook. Newsome drafted a few possible playmakers for now, if not setting up nicely for the future. I see either Baltimore or New England representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50, and sure do hope these two teams battle it out for the right.