|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens hopes to be on the field and not in a court room. Ravens are stacked on defense, but possible losses on offense could derail all post season hopes.
Getty Images/Greg Fiume
Star Power: Ray Lewis, ILB, 6'1, 245 pounds, 9 years NFL experience Jamal Lewis, RB, 5'11, 240 pounds, 5 years NFL experience Jonathan Ogden, LT, 6'9, 340 pounds, 9 years NFL experience Ed Reed, FS, 5'11, 200 pounds, 3 years NFL experience Chris McAlister, 6'1, 206 pounds, 6 years NFL experience Todd Heap, 6'5, 252 pounds, 4 years NFL experience
Notable Additions: Kevin Johnson, WR, 5'11, 195 pounds (acquired through trade from Jacksonville) Deion Sanders, CB, 6'1, 195 pounds (signed as free-agent out of retirement) Kordell Stewart, QB, 6'1, 217 pounds (signed as free-agent from Chicago) Notable Subtractions: Tom Knight, John Jones, Marcus Robinson, Frank Sanders, Chris Redman, Tom Knight, Harold Morrow
Offensive Overview: The Ravens are an old style, smash mouth offense that relies on a dominant rush attack and smart game management to win ball games. Strengths: The strength of the offense is all facets of the running game. Jamal Lewis is the NFL's top pure running back. He has the strength to break tackles consistently, and the acceleration to dash past defensive backs once he's in the open field. As the game progresses, and Lewis is given more and more carries, he can impose his will on a defense. The blocking for Lewis is also tremendous. The Ravens boast perhaps the top run blocking offensive line in the game which is led by future hall-of-famer Jonathan Ogden. Alan Ricard is among the top isolation blocking fullbacks in the game, and receivers Todd Heap, Terry Jones and Travis Taylor are also solid run blockers. The Ravens also have the depth at running back to rely less on Lewis than they did a year ago. Backups Chester Taylor and Musa Smith are capable runners in their own right, and they have the coaching staff's confidence. Weaknesses: The biggest area of concern is still the passing attack. Baltimore ranked dead last in pass offense last season. The front office and the coaching staff hopes that second-year quarterback Kyle Boller can make enough strides to improve the efficiency needed from the quarterback position. The pass blocking effectiveness of the offensive line remains questionable. Although the additions of Kevin Johnson and rookie Devard Darling, as well as the return of Randy Hymes, brings a nice infusion of talent to wide receiver core, there is still no dominant pass catching option outside of Pro-Bowl tight end Todd Heap.
Defensive Overview: The Ravens run a hybrid scheme that uses masking and confusion to disrupt the rhythm of opposing offenses. Strengths: This is a defense that has great speed, versatility and depth. The biggest strength of this unit is the linebackers. Not only do the Ravens have perhaps the best starting core of players in the league, but depth is just as good. Ray Lewis, the most dominant defensive player in the NFL today, leads this group. Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware are ideal bookend pass rushers, while Edgerton Hartwell is a crash guy who plays the run as tough as any player playing at his position. The back end is also a talented group led by Pro-Bowl players like Chris McAlister and Ed Reed. Weaknesses: Perhaps the only question mark of the defense is whether or not the defensive line- a much better group than given credit for- can keep from wearing down during the course of the season. The line has been effective against the run over the past couple of seasons, but bigger offensive lines can give this group some trouble. Another concern is the health of Peter Boulware. Boulware is slated to miss the first five games of the season due to a knee injury, and although there is a plethora of linebackers of solid linebackers that can take his place, it remains to be seen if any of those players will provide the pass rushing skills and savvy that Boulware has brought to the table for the past seven seasons.
Special Teams Overview: Overall, this is a unit without many holes. The kicking game will have continuity, as all three kickers from last year's roster return. Matt Stover is a reliable place kicker from 40 yards and in; Wade Richey gets great depth on kickoffs; and Dave Zastudil is a solid, if unspectacular punter that still needs to hone his accuracy. Coverage units should be strong for another season in a row. Leading the way on punt and kick coverage is the game's best gunner: Adalius Thomas. Gerome Sapp, Bart Scott, Chad Williams, Will Demps and Ed Reed will support Thomas in coverage situations. The visible weakness is at the return spots. Rookie B.J. Sams is being counted on to provide electricity and consistency to kick/punt return game, but he is still an unknown commodity going into the season.
If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, it will win it by playing lights out defense, running the ball extremely well, winning the field position battle consistently and posting a turnover ratio that exceeds the +10 mark.
|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
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