Defense. It’s the first word that pops into people’s heads when they think of the Baltimore Ravens. Like it or not, the Ravens have never consistently had a dominant offense (by that I mean they’ve never had an offense that’s been in the top 10 for any consistent period of time). Moreover, when their offense has been on the field, it hasn’t really been the most exciting thing to watch. They’ve always been the play solid defense, run first and hope your quarterback doesn’t turn the ball over team. This season, however, may be a bit different.

What brings me to this subject is something I heard on 105.7 the Fan the other day while I was station surfing. Steve Davis was interviewing Derrick Mason and asked him who he thought was the best receiver duo in the AFC North. Of course, Mason picked himself and new off-season acquisition, Anquan Boldin. The subject came up after the Cincinnati Bengals’ chose to sign Terrell Owens to a one-year deal earlier this week and pair him with fellow boisterous personality, Chad Ochocinco. The question, for an unbiased party, is very intriguing considering the production all four receivers have had in their careers. The bigger question, looking forward to this season, is just how much production each of these guys have left to give to their respective teams. Just for fun, let’s look at all four wide outs’ career numbers:

Derrick Mason
14th season, 863 receptions, 11,089 yards, 59 touchdowns
Anquan Boldin
8th season, 586 receptions, 7,520 yards, 44 touchdowns

Combined 22 seasons, 1,449 receptions, 18,609 yards, 103 touchdowns

Chad Ochocinco
10th season, 684 receptions, 9,952 yards, 62 touchdowns
Terrell Owens
15th season, 1,006 receptions, 14,951 yards, 144 touchdowns

Combined 25 seasons, 1,690 receptions, 24,903 yards, 206 touchdowns

Now, there is certainly more factors involved in answering this question than just looking at their statistics side-by-side. But to have a pair of Ravens receivers in the conversation as being the best at something is certainly something this franchise hasn’t seen before. And with the acquisitions of both Boldin and Donte Stallworth, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say the Ravens may potentially have one of the most consistent receiving cores in the league. I’m even willing to go farther out on that limb and say the Ravens may end up having one of the top offenses in the league. Of course, it takes a lot more than just adding a few players to be a dominant offense, though.

The play calling must be as committed to moving the ball through the air and taking chances as it is to running the ball. But it seems as if the conservative play calling that was once synonymous with the Ravens has been thrown out the window ever since Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator in 2008. That move proved to be just what the Ravens needed to turn around their long history of struggling offenses. In just two years as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, Cameron has taken the team from being the 24th-ranked scoring offense in 2007 (17.2 ppg) to the ninth best in 2009 (24.4). The Ravens also set team records for most total touchdowns (47) and most rushing touchdowns (22) in 2009.

Another aspect of a dominant offense is having a legitimate quarterback, and Joe Flacco looks to be on his way to being just that. There is no question Flacco has the arm, the skill and the smarts to be a great quarterback. At times, his decision-making is kind of questionable, but that is something that will come with experience. Flacco will definitely have more weapons at his disposal this season, which should dramatically help his numbers. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over and he keeps the defense honest with a good mix of run and pass plays, there’s no reason he can’t be one of the top quarterbacks in the AFC.

But you can’t talk about the Ravens’ offense without mentioning the little ball of fire that is Ray Rice. When the Ravens drafted Rice, there were questions about his size and if he could be an every down back. Rice answered those questions loud and clear last season to the tune of 2,041 total yards, which was good for second in the NFL. He also averaged 5.3 yards per carry and added 78 receptions for good measure. He may have even better numbers this season, though, because defenses will have to respect the passing game instead of putting eight in the box all the time.

Ravens’ fans have a valid reason to feel optimistic, excited and every other positive emotion about their offense this season. When you look at the success they’ve had in the past two years with Cameron as coordinator and Flacco as quarterback, it only makes sense that they would be even better this season with the additions they made in the off season. All the hype about having a new-look offense is fine and dandy, but we won’t know what to make of it until Monday, Sept. 13 rolls around. Having to face Rex Ryan and his tough Jets’ defense the first game of the season should be a good measuring stick for what to expect from the Ravens’ offense all season long.

Submitted by Steve Giles