BSL Roundtable: Thoughts on the 2016 Ravens
Tonight, the 2016 NFL season will kickoff as the defending champion Denver Broncos play host to the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. The Baltimore Ravens get their season underway this Sunday, hosting the Buffalo Bills.
It’s been a long and somewhat crazy off-season, But it’s time to put that in the rearview mirror and look ahead to the next 17 weeks. Hopefully more. This is the 21st season in Ravens history.
Baltimore Sports and Life contributors Chris Stoner, Mike Randall, Gabe Ferguson, Andy Guyader and Shawn Brubaker bring you a roundtable discussion on the season to come.
Discuss your thoughts on any of the topics we cover here on our message board.
1. Teams started preparing for the 2016 season over six months ago. The Ravens made two free agent signings way back when that are in line to play major roles in the upcoming season. Mike Wallace and Eric Weddle. Which one of these two do you think will have the greater impact on their respective side of the ball?
Chris Stoner – Weddle is the superior player, but I think Wallace has a chance to have more impact. Remains to be seen what the Ravens get out of Smith Sr. and Perriman, and if the answer there is little, there will only be additional opportunities available for Wallace.
Mike Randall – I’ll go with Weddle, although his impact is things that won’t show up on the box score. He brings leadership and field general like mentality to the defense. He’ll play the chess game against more exotic offenses that make changes on the fly. Hopefully the days of not adjusting on defense when the offense calls an audible ore over. As far as Wallace, I think his short receiving game is underrated as he is viewed more as a deep ball threat. But Weddle immediately makes the defense a better unit.
Gabe Ferguson – Weddle will likely have the greater overall impact, although the speed dimension that Wallace brings may help the offense more than just the stats will suggest. Weddle is a veteran leader who should help immensely with communication and getting everyone lied up properly. I would expect a lot fewer blown coverages than we have seen the past couple seasons.
Andy Guyader – Weddle – such great leadership and ability. May be at the end of the career but very motivated and capable to make plays. The offense is in Flacco’s hands and the defense is at least partly in Weddle’s hands.
Shawn Brubaker – Eric Weddle, but I have more expectations for Wallace than most. Wallace I think will benefit from the Ravens’ culture, Joe Flacco’s arm strength and what seems to be a renewed zest for football. But Weddle is an All-Pro most years. I think he will be that again for the Ravens.
2. After free agency opened up, it was onto the NFL Draft. Ronnie Stanley was the Ravens first selection at #6 overall and will open the season as the starting left tackle. It’ll be easy to paint him as the rookie who will make the most impact. So other than Stanley, which Ravens rookie would you expect to claim, say, Ravens rookie of the year?
CS – If Kenneth Dixon was healthy today, I’d pick him. If he’s not back until Weeks 3-5, he will have to work his way back in, and show he can handle blitz pick-up which often is an issue for Rookie RB’s. I’ll go with Kamalei Correa because he figures to be on the field often starting in Week 1. Wondering if someone else will go with Matthew Judon?
MR – Alex Lewis might be that guy by way of earning the most playing time. It appears he will be the starting left guard spot vacated by Kelechi Osemele. He’s shown well there this preseason and like Weddle, his impact won’t show up in the box score. Though cases can be made for others, some rookies aren’t going to be starters right away, making it harder to play often enough to make a huge impact.
GF – I’m going to go with Matt Judon. There is a path for him getting a lot playing time with some of the injuries at the OLB position, and he has flashed very impressive ability throughout training camp and preseason.
AG – Based on the preseason – got to like Kenneth Dixon. Wish he was not recovering from injury to start the season but he looked sharp and explosive in the preseason games.
SB – Kenneth Dixon, who was the Ravens’ best running back in preseason and could become the leading ball carrier by the end of the season. He has a combination of burst and power that no other running back on the roster has.
3. Given all of the injuries a year ago, the Ravens have a number of candidates for comeback player of the year. Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr. Joe Flacco, Dennis Pitta, Jeremy Zuttah (centers count too right?), Breshad Perriman (though maybe you have to make it to the field before you can have a “comeback”). Who do you feel will rebound to have the best year among the injured reserve all-stars of 2015?
CS – The reports on Suggs sound good now. Smith is so competitive, I expect he will will himself into being usable. I’m in complete wait-and-see mode with Pitta. I do expect Perriman to help the offense if he’s routinely available (can do so just by the attention defenses will be forced to give him). Flacco is my answer though. Less because I expect any real change to his career averages, but because he remains the most valuable player on the roster. If he’s consistently good, the Ravens will be good. Really as simple as that to me.
MR – Joe Flacco is the one I feel most confident in getting back to his old self. He’s got more talent around him than ever before. The makings of a very good offensive line to protect him. Continuity with his offensive coordinator for more than one season for the first time in four years. Age isn’t a question yet. That looks like a recipe for success to me.
GF – Joe Flacco is in line to have a nice bounce-back season with the weapons the front office has put around him. Marc Trestman loves to pass the ball, so he could be in for his best statistical season as well.
AG – Joe Flacco – I think he will have a pro bowl type year. He’s got the jewelry from a SB win so he has the cred. I think he comes back with something to prove and delivers.
SB – Terrell Suggs will be the best of that group. Steve Smith is coming off a ruptured Achilles and a broken back in his age 37 season. I don’t have high hopes for him. Pitta hasn’t played for years and is still a major risk. Flacco played 10 games last year, so I hesitate to call him a comeback player. Jeremy Zuttah is a fine center, not much more. Breshad Perriman is incredibly raw still. Suggs will provide a huge boost to the defense’s intensity and run defense. We’ll see if the burst is still there getting after the passer.
4. One of the players brought in to help out on special teams is Devin Hester. Obviously not your average return man. A kick return man who generates buzz and discussion given his history of being the best ever in that area of expertise. What kind of an impact to you expect the 33-year old veteran to make?
CS – He was limited to 5 games last year with a turf toe. You mentioned his age. We’ve talked on the message board about the rules changes and impact there. I do believe in Special Teams, but I’m not convinced he will be a game changer. My basic hope is that he will be reliable, and with his experience be counted on to make sound decisions. If he shows any explosion, all the better.
MR – It will be interesting to see how other teams approach Hester’s presence. The 33-year old is coming off toe surgery. So will he still have the skills to be explosive is one question. The next one is how kickers will adjust to the new rules, with touchbacks coming out to the 25-yard line. Some kickers might challenge the returners, purposely dropping it inside the five and forcing a return that maybe falls short of the 25. In Hester’s case, will they keep blasting it out of the endzone and give the Ravens the 25 rather than risk giving him extra yards.
GF – More than anything, Hester should be a consistent and trustworthy presence as a return specialist. It’s unlikely he still maintains the speed and elusiveness that made him the best kick returner in the history of the NFL, but he undoubtedly still has some juice and his experience is impossible to quantitate.
AG – Going into the season – I hope he has a lot of chances on punt returns and not so many on kickoff returns. I hope he has some juice left in that body but I would not count on much there.
SB – He’ll catch the punts and kickoffs at least. I think his burst is gone, so there is only so much value he can have.
5. Looking to the season ahead, there are a number of changes you want to see coming off a 5-11 season. A five-win season that prior to it, a few experts picked the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Even before injuries took their toll, the Ravens were not playing good football. Of the number of issues from last year, and there were a lot, which one would you most like to see addressed for a better outcome in 2016?
CS – I wanted the Ravens to get younger, and add some fresh legs. I think they have done that. I think the athleticism and talent on the roster is better than last year. I’m not convinced there is enough game-changing talent. I’d define game-changers as talents that the opposition has to scheme for, and that you would expect to regularly win their 1-on-1 battles.
MR – Aggressiveness on defense, hands down. Nothing is more infuriating than watching the corners line up 10 yards off the ball on 3rd and 5 and give up an easy pitch and catch 1st down. The soft zone that is Dean Pees common defense gets shredded when they don’t adjust and quarterbacks generally just have their way with them. We saw a lot more press coverage used in the preseason. A lot more blitzes including safety blitzes. Aggressive defense is a must for so many reasons. First and foremost, look at the last three Super Bowls. Of the six teams there, four of them were there mainly because of defense. Seattle twice, last years Denver team, Carolina as well, aside from the MVP at quarterback.
GF – The pass-rush needs to be better for the defense to rebound, plain and simple. Consistent pressure on the QB, especially from a 4 man rush, makes every DC’s job 100x easier.
AG – Defense in the 1st quarter – ranked 22 by Q-Scores. Need to come out of the gate better on defense. Also defense drive performance when drives start on a short field (less than 55 yards. They ranked 28th in this category. Defense must respond with strength when then inherit adversity in terms of bad field position.
SB – The issue that I want to see addressed (and my expectations on this are low) is the defense’s inability to get off the field. The defense is lousy on third down and gave up a ton of yards early in the year before shaping up a bit in the second half. The Ravens desperately need an upgrade of talent and scheme at cornerback, and I didn’t see any movement at this position over the offseason that has me encouraged.
6. The general consensus from a number of outlets power rankings is that the AFC will shape up with the Steelers being the heavy favorite and the Bengals right on their heels as a wild card team. Then the Ravens in 3rd place but not contending, followed by the Browns bringing up the rear. Do you agree with that assessment, and how do you see the division shaping up?
CS – Pittsburgh has a highly capable offense, and an improved looking defense. I think Cincinnati remains the most complete in the North. Cleveland will be horrific this year, but I’m generally buying into what they have done from the Front Office down this off-season (didn’t like the trade of Gilbert for a 6th though). Baltimore has a good path to the post-season imo, if they can go 4-2 in the division.
MR – The good thing about power rankings is that they are 100% meaningless. So much can change between now and December. However, it is easy to peg the hated Steelers as the favorites given the offensive weapons. The Bengals could see a downtick with Hue Jackson promoting back to a head coach spot, this time in Cleveland. They also are going to miss Tyler Eifert for some time to start the season, whom they leaned on heavily in the passing game. Cleveland is in the basement until they are not. I like the Ravens to finish second and contend for a playoff spot, but the division title could be attainable when they matchup against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to end the regular season.
GF – I think it’s a lot closer among the top three teams. The Steelers and Bengals both lost several important players and did not do much to replace them. On the other hand, the Ravens are getting back a number of players from injury and had a very nice draft. I think all three teams wind up winning between 8 and 10 games.
AG – Yes, completely agree. I see the Browns as winless and the Ravens with only two wins in the division. Steelers and Bengals sit with very strong posture before the season starts.
SB – I might put the Bengals ahead of the Steelers, but otherwise, yes. The Bengals have the best defense in the division. The Steelers the best offense. The Ravens are solid but unspectacular on both sides of the ball. The Browns are starting RGIII at quarterback, which I think says enough.
7. You can find reasons that the Ravens could finish 5-11, or reasons they could finish 11-5. Given the uncertainty, leaving injuries out of the discussion, pick out one strength that could carry the team to a playoff birth. On the flip side, pick out one reason that the Ravens could have yet another down season. Would be their third time in four years if they miss the playoffs in 2016.
CS – I can’t really find reasons for the Ravens to go 5-11, unless they are again crippled by injuries. This isn’t the most talented Ravens team, but I think the window is closer to 7 wins at the minimum, and agree with that 11 win ceiling. The entire NFL to me is a few teams at the top, a few teams at the bottom, and large swaths in the middle. Seasons come down to inches.
I think the way the Ravens get back to the playoffs is that they have a lot of usable parts. Not overwhelming talent, but plenty of guys capable of making plays.
I’ve already mentioned that I think Baltimore lacks elite playmakers, so to give another answer of why the Ravens could have another down year – I’ll go with the Offensive Line (LG, limited depth).
MR – Joe Flacco could be the reason the Ravens get back to their winning ways. Most important position, has shown the ability to carry a team before, historically the 2012 playoff run. If he’s closer to 2014 Flacco (27 TDs, 12 INTs, 67.02 QBR in 16 games) rather than 2015 Flacco (16 TDs, 12 INTs, 40.86 QBR in 10 games). They’ll continue to lose games if coaches don’t change their ways. If Dean Pees’ defense continues to be as soft as it’s been. If Marc Trestman runs a pass happy offense instead of trying to win time of possession and wear down defenses in the running game. John Harbaugh hasn’t been known as a great in game manager when it comes to things in his control. Time out usage, challenge usage, going for the touchdown when a field goal will do. A lot of that bites them in the end.
GF – It’s hard to point to one main strength for the Ravens as they are fairly well-balanced if not exceptional all around. I would say their ST is probably their biggest strength and while many would find that amusing, it’s still a major component in football. The Ravens will have a down season if they can’t stay healthy which is a real question-mark with the number of players that are getting up there in years and/or returning from injury.
AG – Reason to make the playoffs – veterans like Flacco, Suggs, Weddle and their coach pushing the right buttons at the right time.
Reason to not make the playoffs – Would probably mean three teams go from the division. That is tough. The Ravens could be having a good year early but play Steelers game 8. They’ll run into four games against the Steelers and Bengals in the second half of the season and could go 0-4. That will make it tough.
SB – Strength – Offensive depth. The Ravens have so much versatility on offense, with four running backs they’d like to see get touches, three tight ends, and five receivers they feel really good about. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Ravens’ juggle so many weapons. Want to go vertical? Throw out a trio of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore. Want to pound the rock? The Ravens might have the best three tight end set in the NFL when healthy.
Weakness – The Ravens have one legitimate starting cornerback on the roster in Jimmy Smith, and he struggled mightily last year. Shareece Wright’s success last year seems unlikely to stick, and Jerraud Powers is on the decline. Teams will pass the ball at will on this team, even with a big upgrade at safety.
8. Prediction time, lighting round, quick answers:
Ravens regular season record?
CS – 9-7, MR – 10-6, GF – 10-6, AG – 8-8, SB – 8-8
Ravens offensive player of the year?
CS – Joe Flacco, MR – Ronnie Stanley…….will pave the way for Joe Flacco to win it. GF – Joe Flacco, AG – Joe Flacco, SB – Joe Flacco
Ravens defensive player of the year?
CS – Brandon Williams, MR – Jimmy Smith, GF – Jimmy Smith, AG – Terrell Suggs, SB – Brandon Williams
NFL offensive rookie of the year?
CS – Ezekiel Elliott, MR – Carson Wentz, GF – Ezekiel Elliott, AG – Ezekiel Elliott, SB – Ezekiel Elliott
NFL defensive rookie of the year?
CS – Jalen Ramsey, MR – Joey Bosa, GF – Leonard Floyd, AG – Jalen Ramsey, SB – Myles Jack
NFL offensive player of the year?
CS – Aaron Rodgers, MR – Cam Newton, GF – Aaron Rodgers, AG – Tom Brady, SB – Antonio Brown
NFL defensive player of the year?
CS – Patrick Peterson, MR – J.J. Watt, GF – Khalil Mack, AG – Luke Kuechly, SB – J.J. Watt
Who plays in Super Bowl 51?
CS – Patriots vs. Seahawks, MR – Biased: Ravens vs. Panthers. Unbiased: Patriots vs. Panthers, GF – Patriots vs. Cardinals, AG – Steelers vs. Panthers, SB – Patriots (ugh) vs. Packers
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]