AFC North - 2_Baltimore Ravens1

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AFC NORTH BALTIMORE Ravens Offense Even when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, their offense wasn’t the most prolific in the league. It was quite effective, though. Last season, the offense sputtered and was ranked No. 29 overall, its worst mark in nine seasons. They scored 20 or fewer points seven times in 16 regular season games on their way to an 8-8 record. Instead of competing in the playoffs, the Ravens were forced to watch. Can the offense be turned around this season? Don’t expect record-setting numbers. But there is plenty of potential for improvement across the board. The Ravens welcomed new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and free agent wide receiver Steve Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler. This duo alone should make quite an impact on an offense, which needed a jumpstart. Kubiak is expected to call plays and run the entire offense, which will be an adjustment for quarterback Joe Flacco. The 34-year-old Smith, who ranks 19th in receptions in NFL history, joined the Ravens in the offseason after 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Not only does Smith still have downfield speed and playmaking ability, he’ll give the Ravens another true leader on offense. Smith had 64 receptions for 746 yards with four touchdowns for the NFC South-champion Panthers last season. Smith remains the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions (836), yards (12,197) and touchdowns (67). Smith is still searching for his first Super Bowl title and joining a team with that type of history is an added bonus. In the backfield, the Ravens must deal with the fact that running back Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games. Bernard Pierce has proven to be a capable backup and fill-in starter. Pierce will have a fantastic opportunity in the first two games to prove his mettle to the coaching staff. When Rice returns, the Ravens could have one of the more formidable backfields in the league. Offensive Player to Watch Flacco will be motivated to show that last season was an aberration. The 29-year-old Flacco completed only 59 percent of his passes and tossed an uncharacteristic 22 interceptions last season. Those 22 picks were a career-high and his 73.1 passer rating was the lowest of his career. Kubiak’s West Coast offense should help pay big dividends for Flacco, who could use some early season success to bolster his confidence. Flacco was sacked 48 times last season, the second-highest total in the league. An improved offensive line will help. If Flacco can get time to throw and the Ravens can run the ball consistently, all of his numbers should get better. Flacco is one of the most competitive players in the league and he’s be determined to have a stellar season. That you can expect. Ravens Defense The Ravens have always won with defense. That wasn’t the case last season. By the end of the season, the defense was adequate enough to finish 12th overall in the league. But it wasn’t enough to propel the Ravens when they needed it most. The Ravens gave up 25 touchdown passes and 12.5 yards per catch, which had been much stingier in previous seasons. They also allowed nearly 4,000 yards passing. 2014 STRENGTHS: • Improved defensive line, deep running attack 2014 WEAKNESSES: • Lack of receiving depth, hole in defensive leadership, questionable special teams play RAVENS Joe Flacco TOM SZCZERBOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES SPORT


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