I get that every team sustains injuries during the span of a grueling NFL season, but what happened to the Ravens in 2015 was just plain unfair.
****Ravens fans if you don’t care to relive this nightmare feel free to skip the next paragraph.****
Going into Week 17 the Ravens placed their 20th player on the injured reserve (IR) list. This was a new team record for the Harbaugh era. The list included six offensive starters from Week 1. Now I am far from a mathematician; as a matter of fact I liked my Algebra1 teacher so much I decided to take it two years in a row. Anyways, even I could tell you that losing over 50% of your Week 1 starting offensive unit could produce a catastrophic result for the season.
Okay catastrophic might be a bit strong, but this team is use to winning. Since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, the Ravens have won 10+ games in five of those seasons, and have never had a losing record. I am sure Ravens fans are ready to put the 2015-16 season in the rear-view and focus on the future.
Points Per Game: 20.5 (25th)
Passing Yards Per Game: 266.9 (8th)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 92.4 (26th)
Keeping the injury information in mind, it is difficult to be too harsh on first-year coordinator Marc Trestman. A true optimist would say that he engineered the eighth best passing offense with Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Clausen, and Matt Schaub combining to play the teams final six games. The pessimistic fan would quickly point out that they lead the league in pass attempts but only managed to finish 25th in points per game. I will try to take a realist approach and say that if this offense wants to be successful in the future they will need to find better balance. I don’t think having Flacco air out 41 times per game (was his per game average prior to injury) is the answer.
The truth is balance has never really been in the cards for Trestman. Going back to 1989 Trestman has been a play-caller in 11 different NFL seasons. In those those 11 seasons his offenses have ranked in the top 10 in pass attempts seven times. On the the other side of the coin, his offenses have posted seven consecutive seasons of ranking 21st+ in rushing attempts. As expected, the rushing yardage hasn’t been there either. There has been exactly one occasion in which his offense has finished better than 16th in rushing yards. 11 seasons is a pretty serious sample size. Don’t be shocked when the offense throws the ball another 600+ times in 2016.
Who is going to be on the other end of those targets? While the Ravens lack elite receiving talent, they have built a diverse receiving corp with unique skill-sets.
Speed: Joe Flacco likes to throw the deep-ball. While Torrey Smith may not be the most polished receiver to ever step on a football field, his 4.36 speed played a huge role in the Ravens offense. Not having a receiver who could stretch the field in 2015 made a negative impact on the offense. Breshad Perriman was suppose to fill that role, but suffered a partially torn PCL and missed the entire season. Perriman had a scare this week, but after some additional testing and a stem-cell injection he is expected to be ready for training camp. Ravens fans will be hoping the 4.25 speed that he showed off at his pro-day will remain despite the injuries.
He isn’t the only burner that will be on the field this year. The Ravens also acquired Mike Wallace who despite turning 30 this summer can still fly. This duo will be counted on for explosive downfield plays. Even when they aren’t making plays they will benefit the offense by stretching the defense out and allowing other pass catchers space to operate.
Possession: Now don’t get it twisted. We all saw Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken both make some big plays for this offense last season. They are much more than just “possession receivers.” However, for the most part they do their damage inside the numbers and are counted on to move the chains in third and medium situations. Steve Smith isn’t putting a time table on his return, but if I have learned one thing from watching Smith over the years, it is that he is a gamer. I think 89 will find a way to be on the field Week 1.
At the tight end position Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore, and Maxx Williams will all make contributions and should provide Flacco with trustworthy red zone targets. Watson is coming off his best statistical season of his career with the Saints in 2015. While I am doubtful he will reproduce the 74/825/6, he will bring 12 years of experience to a team that is chalked full of young talent at the tight end position.
The running back position is a versatile group that can catch the football. Last year, there were three backs who recorded 30+ receptions (Forsett 31, Juszczyk 41, Allen 45.) Adding Kenneth Dixon, who was regarded by some experts as the best pass catching back in the draft certainly won’t hurt.
Ravens fans can talk about the importance of balance, but given Trestman’s history there is no point in fighting the reality that this will be a pass first team. Having the speed they sorely missed last season could provide the juice this offense needs to make a playoff run in 2016. On second thought, not having to put over 50% of your Week 1 starting unit on the IR would also help.
It was a tale of two seasons for for the Ravens defensive unit. From Week 10 on the Ravens allowed only 291 yards per game, which was second best only behind the Houston Texans. They will look to build on that momentum for a strong 2016.
The biggest difference was the pass defense, particularly the ability to prevent big plays through the air. In the first half of the season, the secondary got torched 15 times for 30+ yard gains. In the second half, with an improved pass rush and some personnel changes in the secondary they cleaned things up allowing only three pass plays of 30+ yards. This translated to them allowing only 183 yards passing per game during the second half of the season.
Giving up the fewest passing yards for a stretch of games is a nice feather in the cap, but anyone who watched the Ravens defense could tell you that there are problems that need fixed. First and foremost, the inability to create turnovers has to change for the defense to be successful in 2016. The six interceptions they forced were the fewest in the league. They were only able to win the turnover battle on three occasions the entire season. History tells us that team who wins the turnover battle will go on to win the game roughly 75% of the time.
Forcing turnovers in the back-end starts with pressure from the front-seven. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both coming off surgeries, (Dumervil’s described as a “preventative procedure”) so how they will rebound is yet to be seen. If they could generate consistent pressure it could aid the secondary in creating more turnovers. Bringing in veteran Eric Weddle and his 19 career interceptions will not only help the defense, but his ability to mentor the younger players should pay dividends.
Week 14: @ New England
Week 15: vs Philadelphia
Week 16: @ Pittsburgh
Week 17: @ Cincinnati
The only plausible explanation for this is that someone in the Ravens organization had an affair with one (or more) of the wive(s) of the people who make the NFL schedule. I haven’t examined every team’s schedule yet, but I will be hard pressed to find a more difficult finish to the season.
Undervalued: Joe Flacco (ADP:181)
Having Flacco as the 27th quarterback off the board is criminal. Last year, in 10 games he averaged 279 yards per game. That number is with his disastrous 117 yard Week 1 performance at Denver (who turned out to be an okay defense) factored in. If we remove that game his average yards per game is just shy of 300. Add in the speed of Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace and it doesn’t take a genius to see how Flacco could easily have a career year. I will take my chances this late on a quarterback who is going to throw the ball 600+ times. Thanks Trestman.
Mike Wallace (ADP: 163)
Mike Wallace is the perfect fit for this offense. Flacco likes to launch and Wallace’s specialty is straight line speed. Torrey Smith posted four consecutive seasons of 750+ yards receiving catching bombs from Flacco. Wallace has a similar skill-set and I could see him making some big plays in this offense.
As always, there will be frustrations from a fantasy perspective that come with owning and a boom or bust type of player. On the weeks that he catches a long ball he will reward fantasy owners, but buyer beware because there will be plenty of dry weeks mixed in. When the dust settles I could see him finishing with 60/800/7 which is nice value for the 59th receiver off the board.
Here is to a HEALTHY 2016.