The 2011 Ravens brought about one of the best seasons in franchise history. They finished the regular season with a 12-4 record en route to the team’s third AFC North title in team history.
They finished 8-0 at home for the first time ever and swept the season series against the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since the 2006 season.
They featured a running back in the name of Ray Rice who led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage and brought along a rookie wide receiver in Torrey Smith who finished the season with seven touchdowns, setting a Ravens rookie record. They added a third Defensive Player of the Year award to the mantle with linebacker Terrell Suggs winning this season.
The Baltimore Ravens were two plays away from playing in Super Bowl XLVI, but overall was a season to remember for fans everywhere. Let’s take a final look at the Ravens season unit by unit.
Joe Flacco had an up and down first half of the season but got better as the season progressed, culminating with his performance in the AFC Championship game, outplaying his counterpart Tom Brady. As the offense became more balanced and Cam Cameron used the run effectively, Flacco’s passing became better. Flacco finished the season with 20 touchdowns and threw for 3,610 yards.
At times he still doesn’t have the pocket presence and ball security you would like to see out of a 4th year starting QB, but he showed this year that he very well could take that next step. He needs more help on the offensive line and with the addition of Jim Caldwell as quarterbacks coach, Flacco’s numbers could trend upwards once again next season.
Running Backs: A
Ray Rice finished with a NFL high 2,068 yards in total offense this season and clearly is the team’s star player and workhorse. He’s in line for a new deal, and anyway you slice it, he’ll be back for the 2012 season. His toughness, quickness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield make him one of the elite backs in the game.
The Ravens signed Ricky Williams to backup Rice and he did an admirable job in a role, at least publicly, he didn’t mind having. The Ravens mixed it up well with Rice and Williams and that was the key to keeping Rice fresh throughout the majority of the season. Williams has now since retired and the Ravens will look to find his backup, preferably a tough, physical, between-the-tackles-type back in 2012. That player may already be on the roster in Anthony Allen, but that remains to be seen.
I still say signing fullback Vonta Leach was the Ravens best move of the off-season and one of the best in the NFL. He’s a bulldozer who laid paths for Rice to run for his most rushing yards so far in his career. Leach had no problem taking on linebackers or chipping on defensive ends, he did it all.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B-
Anquan Boldin led the team with 887 yards receiving and 57 catches, but with Boldin, you want to see more in terms of separation needed against defensive backs.
One player who burst onto the scene was rookie Torrey Smith who led all Ravens receivers with seven touchdowns becoming the team’s vertical threat. Smith became better as the season went along catching the ball over the middle. With another off-season to work on route running he could have a Pro Bowl-type season in 2012.
Lee Evans season ended in a very disappointing way after not being able to hang onto the football late in the AFC Championship game, and only finished with four catches for the season.
The Ravens young duo of tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta filled in well this season after the Todd Heap era ended in Baltimore. Ed Dickson finished with 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns. But he was overtaken throughout the second half by the emergence of Dennis Pitta who caught 40 balls for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Pitta blocks well and makes catches all over the field, while Dickson had problems holding onto the football in the 2nd half of the season, with a big drop in the AFC Championship game.
Offensive Line: C-
This group went from a supposed strong spot on the Ravens to a group that will most likely need some changes heading into the off-season. Run-blocking, typically a strong suit was not the same in 2011 as it was in 2010, but looked good because Ray Rice ran so well. The key to the line is guard Ben Grubbs who the Ravens will try hard to hang onto. Marshal Yanda is the line’s best player and a mauler who is just entering his prime.
Michael Oher was solid at right tackle but he may move back to left tackle next season because Bryant McKinnie isn’t the answer there. Veteran center Matt Birk battled injuries and possibly may retire. Center and tackle are areas the Ravens should and need to target in the draft.
Defensive Line: C
The Ravens found a resurgence in Cory Redding and yet another gem in rookie lineman Pernell McPhee, who finished the season with six sacks. These two players along with Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata gave the Ravens good push up front in the first half of the season. Haloti however dealt with a leg injury for a good portion of the season as he began to slow down in the 2nd half.
The push up front the Ravens got in the first half was non-existent in the 2nd half of the season and became harder for linebackers to free themselves of blockers while also being able to get pressure off the edge.
Jameel McClain stepped in place of the injured Ray Lewis for three games in November and did more than keep the Ravens afloat as the Ravens were 3-0 without Lewis on the field. McClain finished the season with 81 tackles and can build upon that for next season.
Ray Lewis finished with 91 tackles but was slowed in the 2nd half of the season with the turf toe injury. Teams began focusing on Lewis, taking him out of the equation on plays and exploiting him on 3rd downs by bringing a speedy tight end or wide receiver across the middle. Lewis is still the heart and soul of this team, but he’ll need help entering his 17th season.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs finished the year as the AP Defensive Player of the Year and with 14 sacks, a new career high. But Suggs was a non-factor in the playoffs, finishing with zero sacks as he saw more and more double teams. Getting pressure from the defensive tackles and Jarret Johnson would have helped the rest of the line in getting to the quarterback.
Lardarius Webb turned in a very solid season, and is as close to a Pro Bowl cornerback the Ravens have had since Chris McAllister. The future is bright for the Ravens with their other young cornerbacks in Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams. These three tackle well, play aggressive in press coverage and match-up well with bigger receivers because of their athleticism.
Safety Bernard Pollard was a great addition for the Ravens bringing a toughness and sense of physicality to the team. He tackled a lot better and played well in run coverage than expected. Ed Reed really struggled through his injuries this season, but always knows when to turn his game up a notch which he did in the postseason.
Special Teams: C-
How does a head coach with so much experience dealing with special teams allow his team to have such a poor unit? Whether it was covering on kickoff or punt returns, the Ravens gave up too much in those areas, even with some pretty good gunners and tacklers in this group.
Billy Cundiff was inconsistent this season, battling injuries and dealing with field goal misses including the 32-yard kick in the closing moments of the AFC Championship game. Sam Koch shined again this season averaging nearly 47 yards per punt.
Lardarius Webb did well returning kicks, but he’ll need to focus more on his cornerback duties, and rightfully so. The Ravens will have to find someone full-time to return punts and kicks.
Coaching Staff: B-
Head coach John Harbaugh got his players ready to play most weeks, playing physical, hard-nosed football. The losses on the road to inferior opponents is still baffling, and will somehow need to be corrected.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron found the right balance in the offensive game plan, after the loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It helped the running game and helped make Joe Flacco more efficient. He’ll be back in 2012 and I would like to see more plays added to the offense because it is still very vanilla with the type of explosive talent on this side of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano moves on to Indianapolis as the Colts new head coach, but the players here loved him and responded to him well. He was aggressive with the game plan and blitzed fairly often in different looks. New defensive coordinator Dean Pees stresses that much won’t change in terms of the game plan and execution. What remains to be seen is what players will be gone and who stays a Raven in 2012.
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