As much as I dislike talking football in May, the Ravens have forced my hand. They are the talk of the town, maybe that has to do with the state of the Orioles, but I think it has more to do with the new look Ravens.
For years our beloved Ravens have rallied their fans around an under dog mentality, blaming the media and their opponents for never receiving enough credit. They have proven to be a “punch you in the mouth” style surprise to the league. But this year that mentality is gone. Fans, I give you the new look Ravens. You wanted to be up there with the elites, you got it.
It finally hit me last week when SI’s Peter King released his early pre-season power rankings. Number one the Green Bay packers, number two the San Diego Chargers and number three your Baltimore Ravens. Here’s what King wrote, “I think the Ravens have hit a few home runs this offseason, and those moves could carry them to the AFC Championship Game. I like the remake of their receiver corps. Anquan Boldin won’t make it through 16 games healthy, but he’ll give Joe Flacco a good, physical target for 12. Donte Stallworth will be reborn as an effective third or fourth wideout, with the speed at the position the Ravens haven’t had. On defense, I wish I saw something better at cornerback than waiting for Lardarius Webb to come back from knee surgery sometime this summer so that the starting corners opening day aren’t Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison obviously has to be hoping for it to be third- and-long so often (with a great run-stuffing front) that he doesn’t have to worry about the more than occasional coverage error downfield.”
Up until this point, I had never seen such high pre-season praise for the Ravens. After I let it the recognition for what in my opinion was indeed a solid off season, I began to worry how the Ravens would react to be named among the elites. Not only had they been named in King’s top three, but they were above the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts, the AFC powerhouse New England Patriots and of course their rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Traditionally, Baltimore has never performed well against those elite teams, with the exception of their playoff win against the Pats last year.
John Harbaugh has certainly changed the mentality of this team, cleaning up it’s once “bad boy” image and putting together a team that should pound you with the run while providing a solid receiving threat to good defenses. My worry as a Ravens fan is how the team, still built around Ray Lewis as a center piece, will respond to the position King and many others have thrown them in to.
Can Baltimore defeat an elite offense with a banged up and underperforming secondary? Will Joe Flacco take the necessary steps as a quarterback to take advantage of his two new targets? Can Ray Rice live up to the hype he created last year?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know that this team’s image has been turned upside down. We’ll have to wait and see how they respond to it.