Preston: The state of the Ravens? There's a lot of work to do

February 02, 2012|Mike Preston

It was almost near the end of the annual "State of the Ravens" address before general manager Ozzie Newsome talked about the team's most pressing needs heading into the 2012 season.

He finally mentioned the offensive line and getting another pass rusher to complement outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Most of Wednesday's news conference was devoted to team officials promising they were going to re-sign potential free agent running back Ray Rice and slobbering over quarterback Joe Flacco, who believes he has been underappreciated in Baltimore.

But the Ravens two postseason games in January showed the Ravens are still lacking in the same two areas from a year ago.

They're stuck.

"I think you have to start with the offensive line," Newsome said. "We were able to get 'Big Mac' [Bryant McKinnie] in here late in August and get him to play. He played every snap on the offensive side of the ball, which is incredible. We are going to have to build on the offensive line.

"I think we will still build at the receiver spot. I think we'll work there. And, you don't ever have enough pass rushers. So if that guy is there, we'll entertain that also."

The Ravens came within a botched touchdown reception and a missed field goal of overcoming their weaknesses, but they were clearly evident in the postseason.

The Ravens pride themselves on being physical, but they were smacked around in the postseason. Houston rushed for 131 yards in the divisional playoffs and the Ravens rushed for only 87 yards overall, and Ray Rice was held to 60 yards on 21 carries.

The Texans had five sacks and six quarterback hurries. The Ravens had three quarterback hurries and no sacks.

In the AFC championship game, the Ravens allowed the New England Patriots — one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL — to gain 96 yards including 68 on 15 carries toBenJarvus Green-Ellis, who sounds more like a law firm than an NFL running back.

On the offensive side, Rice got handcuffed again for 67 yards on 21 carries. The Patriots had three sacks and seven quarterback hurries, and if New England's defensive line was as lean and as fast as the Texans', they would still be scraping quarterback Joe Flacco off the turf at Gillette Stadium.

You have to give Newsome credit because he pulled off these last-minute Houdini moves by signing left offensive tackle McKinnie and center Andre Gurode. But he also deserves the blame because he should have known that some of his younger players like Michael Oher couldn't make the switch from right tackle to left tackle, that Oniel Cousins couldn't play either tackle and rookie tackle/guard Jah Reid wasn't strong enough to start in the NFL.

So now Newsome has choices to make because left guard Ben Grubbs, possibly the team's best offensive lineman, is a free agent, along with Gurode, who would become a starter if Matt Birk retires.

But with Rice a priority and Flacco having a year remaining after this season, the Ravens might not be able to sign all three. In addition, the Ravens signed right guard Marshal Yanda before the start of the 2011 season to a deal worth $32 million over five years.

"Ben has two major factors that we like: He's a really good player, and he's young," Newsome said. "So, as we start to put together the 53-man squad going into 2012, we will factor those things in. But what we also have to factor in: What will that keep us getting, and what will that force us to have to get rid of in order to keep [him]?

"And that's the balance that we'll have to deal with going forward. Ben was here in the building just two hours ago, and I had a good talk with him because [college] recruiting is going on. But he understands and his agent understands the business, but I think we're at a good spot with Ben. But who will Ben keep us from getting, and who will we have to let go in order to keep Ben? That's going to be the balance."

The Ravens have to add some needed bulk at the guard and tackle positions. There were too many times that Grubbs and Birk got pushed back and the Ravens failed on short-yardage situations.

Birk is contemplating retirement and probably should. He has good techniques and can work into the second level but is more of a finesse blocker than one who knocks players off the ball.

McKinnie played OK for the season but doesn't get much bend in his knees. He's stiff and not the player you want protecting your franchise quarterback's blind side. The only definite now appears to be Yanda and Oher on the right side.

The Ravens might have to look on their defensive line as well. Late in the season, this group also started to disappear. Teams started to get to inside linebacker Ray Lewis. The biggest letdown came from Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who had only six tackles in both postseason games, four of which were assists.

But where was Cory Redding? Ngata at least played with an injury, even though Newsome said it didn't affect his play significantly.

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