Five Ravens With Something To Prove In 2014Posted on June 09, 2014 by Phil Gentile
RB Ray Rice
Forget about his arrest in Atlantic City and his much needed redemption from the sting of a domestic violence incident. Rice needs to prove he's still talented enough to be a starting running back in the NFL. How bad was Rice's 2013 campaign? He finished with only one 100-yard game and a mediocre 3.08 yards per carry. While some (if not most) of Ray Rice's struggles were caused by an inept offensive line, the running back has seen his number steadily decline since 2011.
At his best Rice was the catalyst of the Ravens offense. The new zone-blocking scheme might not be a perfect fit for his skill set, but it should open up some holes with the addition of center Jeremy Zuttah and the subtraction of Michael Oher. Rice is finally healthy and only 27 years old. He should be able to put the past behind him, both on and off the field, and once again be a reliable piece of the Ravens offense. If not I see the Ravens cutting ties with him prior to the 2015 season.
CB Lardarius Webb
Now that Webb is almost two years removed from his latest ACL surgery there is no reason he can't form one of the best cornerback duos in the league with Jimmy Smith. Webb was inconsistent last season, as the following play against Davone Bess illustrates. The cornerback has ten interceptions in five NFL seasons and is entering the third year of a five year, $50 million deal. To my surprise, he ranked 21st among all cornerbacks and was the top-ranked Ravens cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. I don't believe Webb was 100% healthy last season and he should be even better in 2014
NT Haloti Ngata
Ngata was nonexistent at times last season but it wasn't entirely his fault. The Ravens 3-4 defensive scheme isn't exactly a perfect fit for Ngata's skill set and he's often double teamed more often than not. Enter Brandon Williams, who should step into the Ravens starting lineup this season. Williams should draw more attention off Ngata and allow him to do what he does best. Hopefully. Ngata has a $16 milllion cap number in 2014 and 2015 so if he doesn't perform the Ravens could choose to part ways him with before that contract ends.
OLB Terrell Suggs
Sizzle finished 2013 with ten sacks but only one over the season's final eight games. With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gone the hope was that Suggs would step up as a leader on the field. I'm still not sure if that's been the case but for the Ravens to make another playoff push they will need their best defensive player to show up down the stretch in 2014. Suggs, like Ngata, didn't show up to the first week of OTAs which is nothing new for him. Still not what you want to see from a leader on defense though.
QB Joe Flacco
2nd most interceptions in the league. Sacked 48 times, only behind Ryan Tannehill for most in the NFL. These are not numbers of an elite quarterback but very little went right with the Ravens offense in 2013. Ray Rice and the running game struggled, Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta was out for multiple games, and the Gino Gradkowski experiment at center was a huge failure.
With Steve Smith added to the fold, Marlon Brown's continued development, and Kubiak's new offensive scheme, look for Flacco to bounce back big time this season. He has a huge cap hit of $28.5 million coming in 2016 so he will need to start showing he's worth that sooner rather than later.