Well, an 8-8 season was nowhere near what the Baltimore Ravens had hoped for. After a promising start that saw three wins in a row to start the season, Baltimore cooled off. A disappointing end to the season with three losses in the last four games ended Baltimore’s playoff hopes. Those four losses includes an embarrassing beat down at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals to end the season. Now, after two straight years without a playoff berth, pressure is mounting in Baltimore. Coach John Harbaugh and company have a lot of work to do this off-season to right the ship. If they do not do so then Harbaugh might be in some trouble. Before looking ahead to next season though, the Ravens better look back at this past season and learn from it. Here is the Baltimore Ravens 2016 season in review.
Baltimore Ravens 2016 Season In Review
Offensive MVP: Marshal Yanda
Well if this is not the perfect description of how the Ravens offensive season went then nothing is. Marshal Yanda was spectacular this season that is not to be overlooked. Yanda was named to yet another Pro Bowl and was rated the number one guard according to Pro Football Focus. So as a candidate, he is very deserving. But, when one’s MVP is an interior lineman who missed three games and part of a fourth that does not bode well for the success of the offense.
What Yanda did this year though once again has been underrated. Not only did he just make his sixth straight Pro Bowl, he did so while playing injured and out of position for part of the year. After missing three of the previous four games before the Dallas Cowboys game, Yanda, normally a right guard, approached coach Harbaugh and asked about switching to left guard. Yanda felt that his injured shoulder would hold up better on the left side. He made a sacrifice switching positions because he felt as though the team would be better off with him playing elsewhere. That leadership and accountability, along with his stellar play, screams MVP, even if he is “just a guard.”
Honorable Mention: Steve Smith
This may feel sort of a career accomplishment recognition more so than a 2016 season achievement. No one would disagree completely, but this claim also some has credibility. Smith finished the season third on the team in receptions, second in yards, and first in touchdowns. All of that was despite missing two and a half games due to injury. Also helping his case was how the Ravens fared without him those two and a half games. The Ravens went 0-3 in those games, including a blown lead on the shoulders of the offense in the game he exited. Put simply, Steve Smith Sr. was the heart and soul of this offense. We will never see another Steve Smith and the Ravens were blessed to have had him for his final seasons.
It was admittedly difficult not to give an even worse grade than a C- to this abysmal unit. Even the stats just feel empty and way more impressive than the Ravens seemed all year. It is not as if the statistics jump off the page either. A 17th overall ranking in total offense and 21st in scoring offense is nothing to write home about. Turnovers and failure to convert field goals into touchdowns doomed this team from the moment the season began.
Luckily for the Ravens the most powerful weapon they have kept them afloat long enough to make the season interesting. Kicker Justin Tucker has solidified himself as the league’s premier kicking weapon going 38-39 on field goals (the one miss was blocked) and a perfect 27-27 on extra points. Tucker led the league in field goals made, field goal and extra point percentage, 50+ yard field goals made, and even finished second in scoring on this deplorable offense. Tucker was one of the lone bright spots on offense this year.
Looking forward however, there are some signs of encouragement. The Ravens seem to have the left side of their offensive line solidified for years with rookies Alex Lewis and Ronnie Stanley really playing well overall. Stanley especially dominated the end of the season finishing very close to the top of Pro Football Focus’ offensive tackle grades (number one over the previous month going into week 17). Fellow rookies running back Kenneth Dixon and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (technically a rookie after missing his whole “rookie” year) also flashed play-making ability throughout the season, especially later on. There certainly are pieces in place moving forward, but much needs to be done. And it all starts with up-and-down quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens will go as far as he takes them.
Defensive MVP: Eric Weddle
This one was arduous to pick as the Ravens finished with one of the top defenses in the league even after their extremely slow finish to the season. More than a few candidates are worthy. Cornerback Jimmy Smith was easily the most indispensable player on the defense as they really struggled without him. But he missed more than a few games and that hurts his value. Rookie cornerback Tavon Young stepped up BIG TIME in Smiths’ absence, as well as opposite him. Timmy Jernigan had a breakout year, especially early on. Even unheralded Zach Orr led the team in tackles. But this achievement really only comes down to two players. Linebacker and pro bowler C.J. Mosley and free-agent signee Eric Weddle.
Mosley missed two games which certainly does not help his case (though both being losses actually might). But he still finished second in tackles and tied for first in interceptions on the team. He played phenomenally all year long and was certainly a huge reason the Ravens played so well of defense.
Weddle simply was more important. Weddle only finished with three less tackles than Mosley and was actually the one who tied Mosley in interceptions with four apiece. It has been preached over and over again this season the importance Weddle has played in organizing the secondary and being the leader of the defense. But one last time, it cannot be overstated watching Weddle direct traffic in the back end. Not much has changed on this defense in the secondary, but the difference between this year and last year is tangible watching Weddle make play after play and getting everyone where they are supposed to be. Weddle has been the highest rated safety in the league all season, until week 17 when Kam Chancellor overtook him by a whopping .2 points. Weddle not being a Pro Bowler is a travesty and he certainly is the Ravens 2017 defensive MVP.
Honorable Mention: C.J. Mosley
Mosley’s case was already stated above both there is one more thing worth mentioning. He was ranked 11th in Pro Football Focus’ linebacker rating with a stellar 85.8.
A few weeks ago this grade would have been much higher. But still, even after the debacle that was the last four weeks of the season, the Ravens still rank in the top ten in total defense, rushing defense, pass defense, and scoring defense. The defense consistently kept the team in games all season. But, it did break down a few times, most notably against the Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, and the deciding AFC North game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The two biggest weaknesses on the defense which certainly will be addressed this offseason are cornerback depth and a lack of pass rush. When star cornerback Jimmy Smith missed time the secondary fell apart. The bigger issue however was the dreadful pass rush. No one on the Ravens scares teams as a pass rusher except for maybe Terrell Suggs, and he is turning 35 with a torn bicep. Tied for 19th in sacks, the Ravens have to improve to go back to the previous lights-out defenses of old.
Overall however, the Ravens stop unit was among the best in the NFL all season. With a few improvements and a little bit of tinkering, coordinator Dean Pees’ unit could be a true force to reckon with next season.
2017 Overall Grade: B-
Man that was tough to admit. All season the Ravens seemed one play a game away from asserting dominance and breaking through to join the elites. Unfortunately, every time they got hot or looked legit, they faltered and came up short. The hardest realization Baltimore had to come to was that this team was just not talented enough in the end. More star power is needed to truly contend. After the most disappointing season in the Harbaugh era last season, the Ravens seemed poised for a rebound season. While a .500 season is nothing atrocious, it is much lower than the expectations that were set forth before the season. A B- seems about right as it was not a disastrous season but it was disappointing.
Now that the season is over, Harbaugh, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, and owner Steve Bisciotti turn their attention towards next season. Picking 16th overall the Ravens have an opportunity to make a splash. Let’s see what Newsome and company have in store for 2017.