The onus is now on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. After two straight playoff appearances, including one in the 2008 AFC championship game, the Ravens have put the burden of winning their second Super Bowl title on the shoulders of its third-year quarterback.
Baltimore has upgraded its passing game with two high-profile receivers, and those additions — along with an already stout defense — might be enough to get the Ravens over the playoff hump and into the Super Bowl.
Ownership has big expectations for the team's franchise quarterback, who played well in regular-season games in 2009 but struggled in the postseason. "I don't think there is any doubt that he's the key to any kind of growth in the system," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. " … This next year, it's time for him to do the things we know he's capable of doing."
Offense: The Ravens will remain a run-oriented offense, but they want more balance and explosive plays this season. Translation: Baltimore will throw downfield more often in 2010. Baltimore added receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth during the offseason to help achieve its goal. Boldin is a legitimate No. 1 receiver while Stallworth has outstanding speed. Having those two on the field should open up the running game, as well as give Flacco the weapons he needs to be a big-time quarterback.
Although Derrick Mason is back, Boldin will be the go-to guy. Though Boldin doesn't have super speed, he's tough and will make the catch over the middle. He gives Flacco a legitimate weapon inside the red zone and can create yards after the catch.
The Ravens also made a significant change in the offensive line, flip-flopping tackles Michael Oher and Jared Gaither. Gaither had trouble with speed rushers last season, so he was moved to the right side. Oher had an excellent rookie season, and the Ravens feel he's ready to protect Flacco's blind side.
Defense: At the beginning of last season, the Ravens played a read-and-react style under new coordinator Greg Mattison. But by the end of 2009, Mattison had learned to attack instead of being attacked. Look for the Ravens to pick up where they left off. They will continue to run defenses out of the 3-4 and 4-3, moving players around a lot after the snap. One big goal for the Ravens is to put more pressure on the quarterback, especially up the middle.
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB. An undrafted second-year player, Ellerbe has great physical attributes. He's a thumper against the run and has a passion for the game, much like Ray Lewis. Once he gets down all the nuances of the pass defense, Ellerbe could become a force in the NFL.
"Obviously, he exceeded expectations. To get an undrafted college free agent to come in and start on a pretty good defense was beyond what we thought for his first season. He is a multi-dimensional player. Not only does he excel against the run, but he can drop into pass coverage and cover a running back or a tight end one-on-one. His future appears to be bright."
— G.M. Ozzie Newsome
"On the surface, the two biggest questions are how well Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth fit into the offense, and can Joe Flacco get them the ball? I assume the Ravens are tired of Flacco throwing those comeback routes to Derrick Mason, and now he has weapons. …
"Then you look over at the defense, and you see an aging Ray Lewis. They did not get as much production out of those young linebackers as they would have liked a year ago, except (Dannell) Ellerbe. They also have some guys they lost on the defensive line like Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan, and they have to replace those guys. …
"The underlying issue is having cover guys in the secondary, which is really just as important as Flacco throwing the ball. Also, you have to wonder about Ed Reed and his neck injury. That is no joke. There is always going to be a fear factor with Ed. You have to question his availability and durability."
QB: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith
FB: Le'Ron McClain, Edgar Jones
RB: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee
LT: Michael Oher, Oniel Cousins
LG: Ben Grubbs, Chris Chester
C: Matt Birk, David Hale
RG: Marshal Yanda, Chris Chester
RT: Jared Gaither, Tony Moll
TE: Todd Heap, Ed Dickson
WR: Anquan Boldin, Donte' Stallworth
WR: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton
Defense DE: Trevor Pryce, Cory Redding
DT: Kelly Gregg, Terrence Cody
DE: Haloti Ngata, Lamar Divens
OLB: Jarret Johnson, Sergio Kindle
ILB: Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain
ILB: Dannell Ellerbe, Tavares Gooden
OLB: Terrell Suggs, Paul Kruger
LCB: Lardarius Webb, Chris Carr
SS: Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura
FS: Ed Reed, Tom Zbikowski
RCB: Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington
K: Billy Cundiff, Shayne Graham
P: Sam Koch
KR: Jalen Parmele
PR: Chris Carr
S: Matt Katula
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
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