The season is officially over for the Baltimore Ravens after they fell to 8-8 with a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2016 season was a roller coaster of emotions for Baltimore, one that started with high potential then ended with heartbreak. Ultimately, the Ravens are on the outside of the post season looking in for the second straight season.
Although this season did not end with a playoff berth, it shouldn’t be viewed as a total disappointment. Baltimore was spoiled for the first five years of the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era with three AFC championship appearances and a Super Bowl.
In 2015, Harbaugh and Flacco suffered their first losing season together because of injuries and a lack of play-makers across the board.
This past offseason, the Ravens’ Front Office set out to make major changes for this team. Most moves were positive, and resulted in a three-win increase from 2015. Albeit, Baltimore left a few wins on the field throughout the season, leaving fans with a feeling that this season could’ve gone much better.
Before the Week Eight Bye, Baltimore started the season with three consecutive wins, followed by four consecutive losses. Eric Weddle said it best when he stated that Baltimore could’ve easily started the season out 6-0 or 0-6. Each game went to the wire, and could have gone either way in every contest.
Baltimore went 5-4 down the stretch, and usually followed up encouraging performances with disappointing losses (@Dallas, @New England, and @Cincinnati). In hind-sight, this squad improved on their dreadful 2015 performance, and this season can be viewed as a bridge between rebuilding phases.
Baltimore improved in many phases this year. They improved their offensive line by drafting Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. The secondary was remade with the additions of Eric Weddle and Tavon Young, as well as moving Lardarius Webb to free safety. The defense tied for the league lead in interceptions (18) after recording only 6 in 2015. Inserting linebacker Zachary Orr next to Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley gives Baltimore its best inside linebacking duo since Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Finally, the encouraging young duo of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon deserve to be a staple in this offense going forward. That is, assuming they hire an Offensive Coordinator who will run the ball consistently.
As well as improving in many areas, there were still weaknesses left on this team. Although the offensive line improved, the play-calling did not. The Offensive Coordinating duo of Marc Trestman/Marty Mornhinweg held Flacco’s offense back all year. The offense led the league in passing attempts, while ranking 30th in rushing attempts. Flacco is unsuccessful when he is forced to throw the ball 40+ times per game. The offense had troubles in the redzone all year, and consistently dealt with turnovers and penalties at the worst possible moments.
On defense, the lack of a pass rush was evident all year. It affected the defense late in many games and allowed many offenses to shred Baltimore’s secondary in the 4th quarter. Baltimore tied for 24th in the league with 31 sacks. Terrell Suggs led the team with 8 sacks, while playing with a torn biceps for much of the year, but could not get much help elsewhere from his younger counterparts. Timmy Jernigan started the year with a hot streak, but fizzled down the stretch and ended with only 5 sacks. Rookie Matt Judon showed flashes of brilliance with 4 sacks, but must improve on consistency going forward. Pass rushers will be a big need in 2017.
Overall, Baltimore made positive strides in 2016 after a terrible 2015, and played meaningful football until Christmas day. Baltimore hit on most of its draft picks and free agent acquisitions, with many new faces making contributions this year. If the Ravens can bring in another draft class or two like this year’s class, combined with a few solid veteran contributors, they will find themselves back where they are most comfortable: the post season.