Steel City Underground

Ravens Opponent Overview

You might be a little surprised to see an update about an AFC North opponent on a Steelers oriented website, but as with our other offerings this offseason, its important to take a look at other NFL franchises, in order to compare how their maneuvers could affect Pittsburgh's.

What better place to look than within the Steelers' own division, the AFC North. And who better to start with, than a team that finished second in the division, and gave Pittsburgh a run for it's money all the way down to the next-to-last game of the season.

Here's an overview of the Baltimore Ravens needs for the upcoming 2017 season.

2016 Rankings

Record: 8-8, 2nd AFC North

Offense Rank
Yards / Game 17
Yards / Play 24
Rushing Yards / Game 28
Rushing Yards / Play 21
Passing Yards / Game 12
Passing Yards / Play 26
Interception Rate 18
Sacks / Pass Attempt 7
First Downs / Game 21
Punt Return Avg 21
Kickoff Return Avg 12
Field Goals Made 1
3rd Down Pct 24
4th Down Pct 24t
Red Zone Pct 20
Goal to Go% 3t
Avg Time of Possession 9
Points / Game 21
Defense Rank
Yards / Game 7
Yards / Play 8
Rushing Yards / Game 5
Rushing Yards / Play 5
Passing Yards / Game 9
Passing Yards / Play 10
Interception Rate 1
Sacks / Pass Attempt 24
First Downs / Game 3t
Punt Return Avg 29
Kickoff Return Avg 10
3rd Down Pct 2
4th Down Pct 25t
Red Zone Pct 18
Goal to Go% 21
Points / Game 9
Point Differential / Game 14
Yard Differential / Game 8
Passing Leaders Att Comp Yards TDs INT
Joe Flacco 672 436 4,317 20 15
Ryan Mallett 6 3 26 0 1
Rushing Leaders Att Yards Avg TDs FUM
Terrance West 193 774 4.01 5 2
Kenneth Dixon 88 382 4.34 2 1
Michael Campanaro 3 72 24.00 0 0
Receiving Leaders Rec Yds Avg TDs Drops
Mike Wallace 72 1,017 14.1 4 2
Steve Smith Sr. 70 799 11.4 5 3
Dennis Pitta 86 729 8.5 2 2
Breshad Perriman 33 499 15.1 3 5
Defensive Leaders Tack Sack Fum INTs HUR
Zachary Orr 130 0.0 2 3 4
C.J. Mosley 92 0.0 0 4 2
Eric Weddle 89 1.0 0 4 3
Lardarius Webb 73 1.0 0 1 3
Albert McClellan 52 1.0 0 0 4

Free Agency

The Ravens have a number of players ready to hit the open market, should they not resign them before the new league year opens on March 9th.

Among those that may, or may not, return:

Unrestricted Free Agents

Unrestricted free agents are "free" to negotiate with any team, including their former club.

Restricted Free Agents

The Ravens have the first rights to match any offer to their RFAs. If they choose to not match an offer sheet from another team, they would receive draft pick compensation (which varies by tender) from the player's new team.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

The following players have two years of accrued NFL seasons. Their contracts have expired, but they cannot sign with another team unless their current team decides to not resign them.

The Ravens currently have the fifth-fewest cap space in the NFL at $15.3 million. This makes for a lot of potential moves, or no potential moves.

Their secondary is one of the better units on their team. It appears patched up with the addition of Eric Weddle last season, the drafting of Tavon Smith in 2016, and moving Lardarius Webb from corner to safety. Jimmy Smith is a perennial Pro Bowl caliber corner on the other side, however, the team could make more cap room by cutting CB Shareece Wright or Webb.

Doing so could create more holes. Webb was moved due to a lack of depth at the safety position, where 2013 first round pick Matt Elam has underwhelmed, and issn't expected back (even before his recent off-field trouble).

Kamar Aiken was a pleasant surprise in the 2015 season, when Steve Smith Sr. and 2015 first round pick, Breshad Perriman, landed on Injured Reserve. With Smith Sr. retiring, the Ravens also lack receiver depth outside of Mike Wallace.

DT Brandon Williams is also a player to keep an eye on: the 2013 third round draft pick has appeared in 55 games with 46 starts since entering the league, and played the most snaps of any Ravens defensive lineman in 2016.

RT Rick Wagner has started 47 games since being drafted in 2013; 45 of them over the last 3 seasons. He would be another big loss for Baltimore.

Draft and Depth Chart Outlook

Biggest needs: Edge, S, WR

The Ravens  have eight picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, also acquiring a third round compensatory pick like the Steelers. They will select 16th overall, and project to look at an edge rusher, safety or wide receiver as their primary needs.

As mentioned above, the Ravens might be looking to make cap room. They are starting to get long in the tooth with their edge rushers, and could save money by releasing Elvis Dumervil. Regardless, they have to be concerned with eventually finding Dumervil's replacement, plus a successor to 34-year-old Terrell Suggs.

DE Lawrence Guy could be another starter on the fringe of hitting free agency too. That calculates as two aging edge rushers, plus two defensive lineman leaving, as spots to fill.

If the secondary stays intact, it might not be as big of a focus. The tight ends are in better shape than the receivers, however. There were rumblings around the Internet that Dennis Pitta's contract may be too rich for the team, but they are solidly setup with Maxx Williams (2015 2nd round pick), Crockett Gillmore (2014 3rd round pick), and veteran Benjamin Watson on the depth chart.

Mike Wallace is due $8 million this season and could very well be another cap-bubble player. If he departs, only the unproven, and seldom healthy, Breshad Perriman remains.

LB Zach Orr, a second-team All-Pro last season, has decided to retire, due to a congenital neck/spine condition that ended his 2016 season.

Conclusion

It's possible the Ravens do not touch the secondary, and none of the aforementioned players become cap casualties. Regardless, a great deal of of the team is unproven and unknown. Joe Flacco is the one constant on the offense, but his running backs include Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon, both who have flashed potential, but neither of which were a consistent answer; they made way for now impending Terrance West, and earlier on, Justin Forsett, before the latter was released mid-season.

That means Baltimore has a deal of rebuilding to do, and little cap room to keep their own in-house free agents to do so. They may have to restructure QB Joe Flacco's contract, or "rob Peter to pay Paul" in order to keep their roster intact. What I mean by that is, if you they wanted to keep Wagner or Williams, they might have to release Wright or Pitta to do so; that will create more holes to fill in the draft or by signing low-cost free agents.

It's not an ideal situation for a team which was already reeling, and in a rebuilding mode like the Steelers, following their 2012 Super Bowl victory. My guess is that they keep most of their aging but higher-priced players on the roster, leave the secondary be, and attempt to go heavy in the draft for pass rushers and depth along both lines (C Jeremy Zuttah struggled with injures in 2016, and if Wagner leaves, they will need offensive linemen as well).

A wide receiver at some point is all but a given as well, unless they feel Perriman's injury history is simply bad luck, and the staff has confidence in bringing back Aiken or have a potential suitor in mind.

I feel like the Ravens are in the same position as the Steelers in regard to replacing aging and/or departed contributors to their Super Bowl, and playoff contending teams. Those positions included the offensive and defensive lines, linebackers, and secondary. The Steelers slowly built back into a contender, but it took some time. They were also able to get aging players, such as Troy Polamalu, off of the books, allowing for enough cap room to keep stars such as Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell on the roster.

Baltimore has no such young stars to lean upon, at least not yet. For them to turn things around, they'll have to keep drafting quality players like Timmy Jernigan, Tavon Young and others. (Zach Orr is just bad luck, much like the Steelers faced when relying on Jason Worilds to be their future OLB.)

How they structure their roster will tell what their team, and outlook, will be for 2017. In my opinion, at this juncture, they have the most work to do of the Steelers opponents. Cleveland has nowhere to go but up (and is loaded with draft picks) and the Bengals had an off year where several injuries set them back. (Look for articles on Cleveland and Cincy later this week.)

Both have more upside than an aging Baltimore team with a lot of question marks approaching free agency, and the draft.





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