The Ravens had to know where their season was going early on. After losing on the road to the Broncos they lost their star defender Terrell Suggs. Starting 0-3 led to 1-6 and eventually 2-7 before Joe Flacco tore his ACL and was out for the year as well. At least one player from every position group was injured at some point this year and they finished the season without over half of their opening day projected starters. Going 3-4 down the stretch took them out of the top five, but it gave them their win of the year. A 20-17 somewhat dominating win and sweep of Pittsburgh that almost knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs in Week 15. However, their most life sucking loss had to be an overtime loss at home to the Browns a week after beating Pittsburgh to get their first win of the season.
The 3-4 stretch run tells you the coach that John Harbaugh is. His team fought for him every week. On a 5-11 team there were only two games that were more than a one score loss, and that can speak to how well Harbaugh has coached, and that the Ravens should be back next year.
Although Harbaugh did a great job, the team may want to look into Marc Trestman and how effective he was in year one with Joe Flacco. Honestly his biggest problem was a lack of ability to establish the ground game every week, but a lot of times in Flacco’s’ first nine games the offense as a whole looked out of whack. How he adjusts in year two will be key, because while players were banged up, most of the talent is on the line and in Flacco.
Back to Flacco it is easy to assess his play and wash a decent amount of it. Eugene Monroe was never healthy as his rock and left tackle, and with a new OC it is tough to knock him. However when looking forward it will be interesting to see how the Ravens navigate the salary cap with Flacco now getting to the meat of his contract.
The biggest gain for the Ravens and another feather in Harbaugh’s hat was bringing in Ryan Mallet. Mallet won their big home win against the Steelers and threw for a career high 270 yards. While Mallet has plenty of issues, he is physically similar to Flacco, and if the Ravens can continue to watch him and work him into their system they may have their back up spot locked in.
Running back play
As mentioned, Trestman didn’t really help but the running back situation sure does have its share of questions heading into the off season. Justin Forsett was able to average a respectable 4.2 yards per carry last season, but in ten full games he only played in two games in which he had 20 carries. Again injuries can sway game plans but it didn’t seem as though Forsett was the big problem in 2015. Trestman was in Baltimore to draft rookie Buck Allen, and it seemed as though they wanted to get him acclimated, at times. His use of Allen was also swayed by Lorenzo Taliafarro who was in and out of the lineup this year. It took Allen a while to beat out “Zo” and even when he had full control of the carries in Forsett’s absence he failed to shine. Terrance McGee and Terrance West got some carries late, and both should make training camp next year to compete with the three above. The Ravens may also go back to the well with a late pick or find another veteran to spice things up, but either way it seems Forsett is the leader in the club house.
Wide Receiver and Tight End Play
Every position is going to have this reaction but it is hard to grasp when the two guys most thought to be starting for the Ravens this summer started a combined seven games. Steve Smith Sr started all seven games until tearing his Achilles. He vows to come back, but going on 37 and with a devastating injury it will be interesting to see how the future hall of famer bounces back. Breshad Perriman, drafted in the first round had the expectations to start in year one, but a back injury kept him off the field for its entirety. It left a lot of reps for Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro. Aiken stepped up in a way that he can be re-signed as a 3rd or (preferably) 4th option. Campanaro is signed on and is a talented special teamer meaning both may end up back on the roster next year. If Perriman can take a giant leap forward the position is fine, but with Smith absolutely not playing two more years, it makes receiver a potential need for a mid round selection.
Tight End should not need to be addressed in any way and that is without thought of Dennis Pitta who has not played in essentially two seasons. Crockett Gilmore, Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams all shined in moments when given an opportunity and moving forward with Gilmore at age 24 and the other two being rookies, the three should be plenty.
Offensive Line Play
The offensive line, yet another position decimated by injury in 2015. Kelechi Osemele missed two games, Jeremy Zutah missed seven, and the team’s fourth highest paid player Eugene Monroe only started in six games this season. Monroe, like Flacco is locked down and will be back, as will Osemele, Zutah and full season starter Ricky Wagner and All-Pro Marshall Yanda. Getting to see a plethora of games from Johnny Urschel and James Hurst was another great learning point for the Ravens to see what they have in their depth. It seems as though the Ravens should move into the offseason hoping to have a healthier more experienced group that may be very strong.
The defensive line was still an above average unit when considering this team versus the run. Brandon Williams didn’t have the stats, but deserved Pro Bowl consideration for his disruption and production against the run. Williams is a classic nose tackle in a multiple formation and he is going to be a stud for years to come. Timmy Jernigan had some ups and downs at year two in the league, but it is assumed he will be fine and will start beside Williams for years to come. Of course the team had to have an injury, and lost Chris Canty for the last nine games of the season. Canty will be back, but his loss gave time to Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban. Neither wowed, and does leave some cleaning up to do with the depth, but the Ravens should be solid up front heading into 2016.
As mentioned Terrell Suggs, the sixth highest paid player on the team joined the fourth and the first highest paid to really hinder this team. Suggs is basically the heart of this defense now. You could really see the fall off, especially in the pass rush without him. Suggs is now 33 and coming off ACL surgery will be his greatest test yet. Elvis Dumervil now at age 31 saw his lowest sack total since 2008 without Suggs across from him. You can expect a bounce back, but the age isn’t a plus, and you’d like to think that he could have still produced a little more without Suggs. With some questions in the top two it will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw is due a contract this year, but has not quite lived up to expectations. Rookie Za’Darius Smith came in over Upshaw at times and looked better most times. It makes Upshaw very expendable, but again if they are uncomfortable with their over 30 stars, they should be looking to add a pass rusher via the draft and letting Upshaw walk.
As for the middle linebacker position this team should be set. Arthur Brown never panned out, but they have Daryl Smith coming off a great season and CJ Mosley having a fine year two after exploding in his first year. Depth may be added in small names, but middle linebacker will be fine in Baltimore in 2016.
In the secondary lies the Ravens biggest problems. To start at the corner position arethe Ravens biggest decisions. In Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith you have two of the highest paid players on the team. Unlike most of their high paid teammates, they were able to play in all 16 games. Although they were hindered by the help around them, neither performed anywhere near the level they need to. Smith at 27 has to step his game up if he wants to prove his contract worth. Towards the end of the season Webb was moved to free safety in an experiment that may be a position move next year. Although there is little behind Smith, aside from slot specialist Kyle Arrington the need at safety may have been bigger. Matt Elam, at strong safety missed the whole season with a biceps injury, and the Ravens spent 2015 shuffling a group of guys in the two positions. Heading into 2016 it appears Webb and Elam will start at safety and Smith is one corner. Who they add and how they add someone will be seen soon, but the secondary may be the teams biggest need.
Where do they go?
The offense needs to find an identity. They have a line to run the ball, but passed much more last year with little weapons. With Gilmore, Maxx Williams and Perriman potentially expanding roles will this be a team that has Flacco slinging it a lot? On defense there is work to be done as well. Pass rush and corner are the glaring holes, and while most of the offense should be fixed internally with philosophy a few defensive touch ups may be all that side needs to have this team back in competition next year.