After three consecutive seasons where the Ravens fell short of the postseason, the team is at a critical point. The culture of winning that has been synonymous with Baltimore is no longer. The only way to revive it is through another series of success. The Ravens need to find it this season, as another season of missed opportunities will result in major change in Charm City. Should the 2018 season be a failure, a regime change will become imminent, and massive roster turnover will occur. To prevent such a scenario, the Ravens need to succeed in 2018. Although there are many factors which will contribute to seasonal outcomes, there are five factors that are more relevant than the others.
Key #1, The Return to Form of Joe Flacco
There is no question that quarterback Joe Flacco has been one of the best and most important players to ever put on the purple and black uniform. His success as a starting quarterback and his historic Super Bowl run will place him in the Ring of Honor immediately when he decides to hang up his cleats. However, Flacco has struggled in recent years. Since his statistically best season in 2014, Flacco has been a shell of his former self. Not all blame can fall on Flacco, as he has dealt with health issues and the revolving door at the wide receiver position has not helped him either. Regardless of fault, it is clear that Flacco must elevate his play. During his tenure as starting quarterback, the success of the Baltimore Ravens has directly correlated with his personal success. (See 2012 Playoffs.) If Flacco can return to form this season, the Ravens will benefit greatly.
Key #2, The Dominance of Alex Collins
Throughout the team’s history, the Ravens have always prided themselves on a strong rushing attack. Jamal Lewis, Ray Rice, and Justin Forsett all gave the offense the extra boost on the ground it needed to be successful. Despite this rich history, the Ravens lost their way after Forsett got injured in 2015. Since then, the running game never could be relied on like years past. That was until last year when Alex Collins seemingly came out of nowhere and took hold of the Ravens rushing attack. Collins, a second-year player in 2017, was cut from the Seahawks after his rookie year. He realized that he missed an opportunity in Seattle, and vowed to never let that happen again. When he got the opportunity in Baltimore, he quickly seized it. If Alex Collins can continue to dominate on the ground, the offense will see massive production in 2018, while also easing the load for Flacco and the receivers.
Key #3, The Chemistry Among the New Receivers
After the most dismal performance possible by a receiving corps in 2017, the Ravens front office realized that major change needed to happen. Nearly all of the faces among the group changed. Out went Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Michael Campanaro. In came Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. These three receivers will have the biggest roles this season, and consequently, need to build chemistry amongst themselves and with Flacco as well. It is imperative that this group of receivers, along with Flacco work overtime this offseason to build a strong bond between them. The talk around the team is that Flacco and the receivers plan to get together this summer outside of practice and work on passing. This would be extremely beneficial to the Ravens offense in 2018.
Key #4, The Improvement of the Defense
The Baltimore Ravens had a stellar defense in 2017. Its accomplishments were nothing short of amazing. Despite their accomplishments, the defense does need improvement. Both last year and the year prior, the defense caved when it counted most. Last year, the defense could not stop the Steelers offense in a critical game late in the season and failed to stop the Cincinnati Bengals on 4th and 12 in the last game of the season, which kept Baltimore out of the playoffs. And how can anyone forget both the “Immaculate Extension” play and drive that led to it in 2016? That also kept the Ravens out of the postseason that year. For the past two years, Ravens offense has always found a way to put the team in position to win at the end of the season. However, the defense has yet to match the offense, which is simply embarrassing for a team that is built on defensive strength. The defense must find a way to close games in 2018. The good news is that it seems to be a priority under new defensive coordinator, Don “Wink” Martindale.
Key #5, The Limiting of Injuries
The past few years have not been kind to the health of Ravens players. It seems as if the team is decimated every year by injuries. Surprisingly, the Ravens have been relatively healthy so far this offseason. (Knock on wood.) It is paramount for the Ravens to succeed that the team stays healthy. If minimal injuries are sustained, the best players get to stay on the field. Things are looking up for the Ravens in this department, but nothing is obviously set in stone.