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When asked what he was pleased with from the 2011 season, General Manager Ozzie Newsome named six specific improvements:
The ability to score points in the red zone
The development of Dennis Pitta
The development of Torrey Smith
The growth of Joe Flacco
The strong play from three young cornerbacks
The increased role for Terrence Cody
“It was a lot for me to like,” Newsome said at Wednesday’s press conference.
The area Newsome pointed to first was the success that the offense had in the red zone.
When the Ravens got down to the red zone, they were one of the best teams at putting points on the board. Baltimore had 49 trips inside the red zone and came away with points on 44 of them, ranking second best in the AFC.
They turned the ball over just once inside the red zone, tied for best in the NFL.
“Every time we got in the red area, we got points,” Newsome said. “So, you can look to that [and say] that was a big improvement, because we had some issues with that years before.”
In 2010 the Ravens had two red-zone turnovers and in 2009 they had seven, ranking them near the bottom of the NFL. The improvement this season was a key difference for the offense.
“I mean, that’s huge,” Newsome said about the turnaround.
Part of the increased success in the red zone was the emergence of Pitta, who finished the season with 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his touchdowns came in the team’s final six regular-season games. He added one more touchdown in the playoffs.
Pitta and fellow second-year tight end Ed Dickson took over for longtime Raven Todd Heap, and the team saw no drop-off in production with the two young players, which Newsome said was a credit to Flacco.
“[Flacco] improved after we took away some weapons that he was accustomed to in [Derrick] Mason and Todd Heap,” Newsome said.
To replace Mason’s spot as the team’s No. 2 receiver, the Ravens turned to rookie Torrey Smith, who had a breakout season in his rookie campaign. Smith led the team with seven touchdown catches and was second with 841 receiving yards.
“I’m pleased with the way Torrey [Smith] developed,” Newsome said.
On the defensive side, Newsome was pleased with the play of cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith.
Webb played himself into Pro Bowl consideration and led the Ravens with a career-high five interceptions. Williams was a solid starter and Smith showed glimpses of his ability as he moved into the third corner role about midway through the season.
With all three players expected back next season – Webb is a restricted free agent – Newsome feels good about how the Ravens can match up against their AFC North rivals.
“Those corners, it was a lot for me to see,” Newsome said.
He also pointed to the play of another young player as a positive sign of development: nose tackle Terrence Cody. The second-year defensive lineman from Alabama played alongside Haloti Ngata and made the Ravens one of the best teams in the NFL at stopping the run.
Cody slimmed down and started all 16 games, adding depth to a front seven that was already tough against the run.
“To be able to play in this division, you’ve got to stop the run,” Newsome said.
Now, the focus for Newsome and the Ravens is to build on those areas in the offseason and find a way to take the next step toward winning a Super Bowl.
“When you look at the whole body,” Newsome said, “you go, ‘there’s still some things that we can do to make us better.’”