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2013 Baltimore Ravens Team Preview: Will The Ravens Overcome Offseason Losses and Repeat as Champions?

Jerry Donabedian

Jerry Donabedian

Jerry Donabedian writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

State of the Franchise

The 2012 Ravens started 9-2, but stumbled through the month of December and seemed primed for an early postseason exit after dropping three consecutive games. A Week 16 win over the Giants salvaged a division title, and less than two months later, QB Joe Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP. Flacco received much of the credit for the surprising Super Bowl run and rightfully so, but there were plenty of other reasons for the teamís resurgence. Cam Cameron, the Ravens offensive coordinator for five seasons, was fired after a Week 14 loss to the Redskins, and Flacco flourished under new coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Meanwhile, the defense, which isnít normally a concern in Baltimore, finished the year ranked 17th in yardage and 12th in points allowed. After a disappointing regular season, the unit returned to form in the playoffs, thanks in large part to improved health. Ray Lewis came back from a torn bicep to go out on top, while 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs battled through a pair of grueling injuries. Neither linebacker looked anything like the best version of himself. The same can be said for veteran safety Ed Reed, but fortunately the Ravens received standout performances from a number of lesser-known players.

The transition to life without Reed and Lewis will be less daunting after a Super Bowl victory, but the Ravens still have some major questions heading into 2013. Flacco has a shiny new contract and a trusted coordinator in Caldwell, but he wonít have his favorite receiver anymore, as Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers for salary cap reasons. Though Boldin had a modest season in 2012, catching just 65 passes for 921 yards and four touchdowns, he exploded for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are the only proven wideouts left on the roster and even that may be a stretch. Smith had plenty of brilliant moments in his first two seasons, but was also prone to awful slumps. Jones is a celebrity after scoring two touchdowns in the Super Bowl and appearing on ABCís Dancing With The Stars, which may obscure the fact that he has never accumulated 600 receiving yards in a season.

Luckily for the Ravens, uncertainty on offense is countered with a wealth of talent on the other side of the ball. The offseason losses were numerous, but GM Ozzie Newsome did a fantastic job of restocking, and perhaps more importantly, star cornerback Lardarius Webb is expected to return from a torn ACL in time for Week 1. While the Ravens arenít listed among the favorites to win the Super Bowl, there is enough talent on the roster that anything less than a deep playoff run will be considered a disappointment.

Offseason Moves

KEY ACQUISITIONS

Elvis Dumervil - LB, Broncos

Dumervil and his 63.5 career sacks give the Ravens a proven replacement for departed pass-rusher Paul Kruger.

Michael Huff - S, Raiders

The versatile Huff is expected to replace Ed Reed at free safety.

Chris Canty - DE, Giants

A proven commodity, but he will have to compete for playing time on a loaded defensive line.

Matt Elam - S, Florida

(Round 1, 32nd overall)

A hard hitter who should slide right into the starting lineup at strong safety.

ARTHUR BROWN - LB, Kansas State

(Round 2, 56th overall)

Will have every opportunity to win a starting inside linebacker spot.

KEY LOSSES

Anquan Boldin - WR, 49ers

Arguably Baltimoreís biggest offseason loss, and thatís saying something.

Ed Reed - S, Texans

Sentimentality was put aside and the Ravens decided to allocate cap space elsewhere.

DANNELL ELLERBE - LB, Dolphins

His fantastic play in 2012 led to a massive contract that the Ravens couldnít match.

Team Notes

AVERAGE JOE OR SUPERSTAR?

Joe Flacco cruised through the playoffs with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions and after the season he was rewarded with a six-year, $120.6 million contract. The contract is a massive overpay if you expect to see the quarterback who struggles with consistency every season, but the Ravens are banking on something closer to what they got in the playoffs. While it would be shocking if Flacco produces elite numbers in the range of a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, some improvement on his 2012 stat line (3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) is a reasonable expectation. He had a ton of success throwing downfield after Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator and will likely continue to challenge opposing defenses with deep balls to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Flacco wonít be working with a great group of receivers, but they suit his skill set and the rest of the Baltimore offense is solid.

LOOKING THIN AT WIDE RECEIVER

Smith and Jones will likely pick up some of the slack following Anquan Boldinís departure, but replacing Boldinís possession skills could be a difficult task. Smith and Jones are vertical threats best suited to work outside the numbers, so ideally someone will step up as a slot target for short and intermediate routes. Though David Reed and Tandon Doss both fit the mold of a slot receiver, neither player made an impression in the past. 2013 seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette will likely get a look, as will second-year players Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter. Consider Reed and Doss the prohibitive favorites to earn playing time, but the position is wide open behind Smith and Jones. If none of the youngsters emerge as viable targets, the team could simply target running back Ray Rice or tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson more often.

NEW FACES ON DEFENSE

Six of the Ravensí Super Bowl starters on defense are no longer with the team and that doesnít even include pass-rush specialist Paul Kruger. Veterans like LB Elvis Dumervil, DE Chris Canty and DT Marcus Spears were brought in to solidify the front seven, while Michael Huff and rookie first-round pick Matt Elam are expected to start at safety. Inside linebacker is the obvious question mark and opponents will have to hope that the position is problematic for Baltimore, because the rest of this front seven is scary. As if the offseason reload wasnít enough, the return of Lardarius Webb from a torn ACL will boost the secondary, while outside linebacker Terrell Suggs figures to be healthier after struggling with injuries in 2012. All the transition creates some uncertainty, but itís not a stretch to say that this unit has as much upside as any defense in the NFL.

Value Meter

Rising: Torrey Smith was prone to disappear in his first two seasons, but the Ravens will expect more now that he is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver.

Declining: Courtney Upshaw will likely lose snaps to Elvis Dumervil, despite showing improvement throughout his rookie season.

Sleeper: Bernard Pierce averaged 4.9 YPC in his rookie season, and while he isnít the total package like Ray Rice, he may be the Ravensí most explosive runner.

Supersleeper: David Reed, who returned from a torn ACL late in the 2012 season, could end up starting at receiver if the Ravens limit Jacoby Jonesí snaps.

IDP Watch

ARTHUR BROWN - LB

The former blue-chip recruit is poised to assume Ray Lewisí role.

Matt Elam - S

Plays fast and vicious, and any coverage deficiencies shouldnít kill his IDP stats.

Lardarius Webb - CB

Returning from a torn ACL, he can make plays even if opposing quarterbacks donít throw his way.

TEAM DEFENSE

RotoWire Rank: 9