Eisenberg: Get Ready For A Big Ravens Shift

A change, quite significant, could be in store for this team in 2012.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 at 10:29 am | Categories: John Eisenberg

You’ve probably heard the one about the Ravens offense needing to pick up the slack for the defense in 2012 because Terrell Suggs is out indefinitely.

The idea has received widespread mention, becoming a talking point just about everywhere people blab about football.

Initially, I wasn’t buying.

It was just too neat, too convenient. The defense takes a hit so the offense steps up? Well, how nice and tidy. Sort of like a movie. But things seldom work out that way, as if scripted in a Hollywood story room.

Plus, I thought, the concept treads far too lightly on the subject of the defense needing help. That’s going to be a serious crossroads, if not a problem, for a team that has played so well for so long on that side of the ball. You can’t just snap your fingers, concoct a quick solution and whistle past the moment.

But as I said, those were my initial thoughts. I’m starting to change my mind as training camp unfolds.

Whether the defense is going to need a pick-up is debatable, but it could be the offense is ready to shoulder that larger load.

I know, I know, it’s only August, still more than a month before the team plays games that count. And the Ravens offense certainly doesn’t have the track record that the defense does.

But it is impossible not to notice some potentially crucial developments unfolding.

Most importantly, quarterback Joe Flacco looks sharp. Really sharp. It’s apparent to those in Owings Mills every day as well as to those in the national media who just drop in. As Flacco’s fifth NFL season begins, his decision-making is decisive, his throws on target, his level consistent.

“He’s taking control. I’m on the Joe Flacco bandwagon,” receiver Torrey Smith said Monday. “He’s been taking control of the offense, and just the way the throws … he’s very consistent in his play, and it’s on us to play catch-up with him.”

In a league increasingly driven by quarterbacks, nothing is more important to your team than the play of your signal-caller, and while Flacco has performed well, it could be the Ravens are in for a boost in 2012.

So there’s that. There’s also the fact that the Ravens have gathered quite a collection of young offensive playmakers. Smith is in his second season, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in their third years. Ray Rice, the unit’s engine, doesn’t turn 26 until January.

Yes, questions persist about the line. Is it too old in places? Is Bryant McKinnie ready to perform after a turbulent offseason? Obviously, the Ravens need positive answers.

But my point is that the pieces of a more productive unit are palpably gathering.

As for whether the defense actually needs a pick up, that’s going to be interesting to monitor. Suggs is out, a devastating blow by any reckoning, and the icons of the unit have made some physical changes in hopes of improving their performances. Ray Lewis is lighter, Haloti Ngata heavier. Meanwhile, three new starters are going to line up in the front seven, and while they’re all young, none are first-round picks.

That’s a lot of change.

At this point, it’s hard to know where the pass rush will come from, but on the other hand, the secondary is absurdly deep in talent; it’s nice to be strong where games are won and lost these days. And of course, it probably doesn’t matter whether Lewis and Ngata are lighter or heavier … they’re enviable assets no matter what they weigh, as is Ed Reed, who experienced a turbulent offseason of his own but appears ready to roll now.

But while it could be that there are enough pieces in place to “hold the levees,” as Suggs said, the unit is experiencing some transition and generating more questions than usual, especially with Suggs out. Meanwhile, the positive forecasts that the offense is generating do appear grounded in reality.

OK, so I’m buying. Nothing is ever thus. A change, quite significant, could be in store for this team in 2012.