Baltimore Ravens 2014 Season Preview: Fantasy Sleepers & Predictions: How Will Ray Rice’s Off-the-Field Issues Affect the Team?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 8-8 (3rd in AFC North)
Key Additions: S Will Hill, WR Steve Smith, TE Owen Daniels, RB Justin Forsett, C Jeremy Zuttah, S Darian Stewart, ILB C.J. Mosley (1st round), DT Timmy Jernigan (2nd round), FS Terrence Brooks (3rd round), TE Crockett Gillmore (3rd round)
Key Losses: S James Ihedigbo, TE Dallas Clark, CB Corey Graham, WR Tandon Doss, TE Ed Dickson, OT Michael Oher, DE-DT Arthur Jones, ILB Jameel McClain
Games to Watch: Sept. 28 vs. Carolina, Oct. 5 at Indianapolis, Oct. 26 at Cincinnati, Nov. 24 at New Orleans
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
•1. Will Ray Rice have a bounce back year?
Ray Rice will serve a two-game suspension for beating his fiancée and dragging her unconscious body through an Atlantic City casino. Futile efforts questioning NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's leniency towards Rice fell on deaf ears and Baltimore will be without their star tailback for pivotal division meetings with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Rice and the Ravens, essentially, get away scot-free. Their only concern now is whether the three-time Pro Bowler can overcome the criticism and a subpar 2013 campaign where he couldn't crack the 1,000-rushing-yard mark.
A hip injury limited Rice to one touchdown and 100 total yards through the first four weeks, though he sat out completely against Houston. His yards-per-carry average dropped from 4.4 to 3.1. 214 carries and 58 receptions were the lowest totals since his rookie year and he didn't break 100 yards until Week 11.
Last weekend at Dallas, Rice trudged into the locker room with a shoulder injury after just two carries. X-rays came back negative and head coach John Harbaugh said it's nothing more than a bruise. It's just another red flag in an already tumultuous training camp.
Baltimore's offense was a train wreck last season mainly because Rice couldn't tote the expected workload. Joe Flacco's interception total more than doubled and his quarterback rating fell below 75 percent for the first time in his career.
Second-year running back Bernard Pierce could have thrived with Rice struggling, instead lowering his yard-per-carry average by two points; granted, an ineffective o-line allowed Flacco to be sacked 48 times and Pierce was slowed by his own shoulder injury. Jeremy Zuttah should be a considerable upgrade at center, even if the Ravens didn't make significant changes elsewhere.
The bottom line is Rice has been beaten physically and mentally, and the regular season hasn't even kicked off. Things will only get worse before they gets better.
•2. Can Steve Smith jumpstart the receiving corps?
Steve Smith's prerogative in signing with Baltimore is to prove he's an elite receiver.
The sure-fire Hall of Famer was unceremoniously released after five Pro Bowls and 30-plus franchise records with Carolina. He's only missed nine games over the last nine years; even a PCL sprain couldn't keep him out of action last season. Smith had been the constant in a capricious Panthers team that's gone through nine different quarterbacks since 2001.
Now he brings exuberance, confidence, and a thirst for vengeance to Baltimore. If that includes leaving the Panthers' "blood and guts everywhere" as he so eloquently stated last March, then so be it.
A club that ranked eighth in pass plays but only 18th in total passing yards needs someone like Smith. He'll benefit from Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones taking slot roles while Torrey Smith remains Flacco's main target. If the passing game can revert to 2012 form, they should make up for inefficiencies in the ground game.
Smith's job is to be a chain-mover. A short-yardage specialist. The receiver who takes attention away from Torrey Smith long enough for Flacco to find him down the field. That's how Smith will prove pundits and, more importantly, Carolina wrong.
•3. Will the defense's age be a factor?
Ray Lewis' retirement and Ed Reed's departure were supposed to drop the Ravens' into obscurity. Their defense actually wasn't half bad.
They surrendered just 0.4 points more than 2012 despite slipping from a top tier defense to a middle-of-the pack bunch who mustered 40 sacks. It only gets worse with run-stopper Arthur Jones heading to Indianapolis.
Terrell Suggs led the team in sacks and placed third in tackles but he's on the wrong end of 30. Linebacker Daryl Smith is the same age. He thrived in Harbaugh's 4-3 scheme but shouldered the brunt of Lewis' duties up the middle.
The Ravens' didn't give Smith much to work with. General manager Ozzie Newsome selected Alabama standout C.J. Mosley for just that reason.
The 2013 Butkis Award winner led Baltimore with five tackles in the preseason win over San Francisco. He's got the quickness and decisiveness to be a future Pro Bowler. At the least Mosley is a better all-around pass and run defender than Jameel McClain was last season.
Bernard Pierce- RB
Injuries hampered Pierce in what should have been a breakout season. He'll have a rare second chance with Rice suspended.
Pierce's yards-per-carry average dropped from 4.9 to 2.9 in recording 96 less rushing yards than 2012. Of his four scores, three came from inside the eight yard line. The only bright spot was his improvement as a pass-catching threat.
Still, he's worth the risk. As with any running back, his productivity depends on a healthy season. Unlike most, Pierce is guaranteed an opportunity to upstage one of the NFL's premier tailbacks.
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