By: Matt Jergensen (@MattJergs)
Seventeen years ago the Baltimore Ravens used a traditional smash-mouth approach in acquiring its first Lombardi trophy - rushing the football and a hard hitting defense.
In the years that followed the franchise continued to have sustained success with this formula reaching the playoffs nine more times and capturing its second championship trophy in 2012.
Since then the team has suffered an identity crisis. Team leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have moved on while the Ray Rice fiasco cast a dark cloud over a franchise that was regarded as one of the league's most well organized.
That beautiful euphoric evening of glory in New Orleans seems like a distant memory as the team have only been to the post-season once in the past four seasons.
So it shouldn't have seemed that surprising that the team has spent the entire off-season upgrading a defense that statistically had a sound resurgence last year. Both in free agency and the draft the message has been clear - try to build the best defense in the league. At least on paper this seems to be step one of replicating past glories. The secondary, which was always one Jimmy Smith hamstring pull away from disaster may be one of the best in the game with experienced vets and youthful hitters. The line is anchored by a burgeoning star in Brandon Williams while the line-backing corps has the potential to develop new stars for Terrell Suggs to hand off the mantle of quarterback terror.
The Baltimore offense however is currently being treated as the neglected step-child. It's one that has been plagued by inconsistency and a lack of cohesive game plan for years save for Coach Kubiak's brief stay in Crabtown. The one constant issue has been the lack of a running game. When Jon Harbaugh joined the fold in 2008, the team finished in the top half of the league in rushing and went on a string of playoff appearances capped by a Super Bowl. Since then, the run game has been an afterthought as the past two seasons the team finished No.26. and No. 28 in the league respectively. In fact the Ravens set a franchise record low in rushing attempts in 2016. (367).
So what have the Ravens done to improve the ground game? Not much so far. The biggest acquisition and the brightest glimmer of hope in a return to old time football was Greg Roman being hired as a Senior Offensive Assistant which is code for "the man that reminds Marty Mornhinweg to call for a hand-off". He's had success in developing excellent running games in Buffalo and San Francisco. But what will Roman have to work with? The offensive line is re-tooling with draftees Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor fighting for several open spots. Whileit looks as if the capable but unspectacular Terrence West will be the de facto starter while Kenneth Dixon sits out on a four game suspension to begin the season.
As we know, actions speak louder than words. This team appears to be opening up the vault and dusting off some old plans to quiet the restless fan base. But can it work? I have my doubts.
No question the path in going defense heavy has set up the team to be very good or dare I say elite for many years to come. Both Denver and Seattle have shown that defense can still win championships even in an age when the rules clearly favor scoring. But this offense in it's current form is barely adequate. Too many questions abound from Flacco's inconsistent play to who will snap him the ball on the regular to having anyone on the depth chart aside from Mike Wallace who has even started in the NFL. I've seen enough football to know that a couple of consecutive three and out drives can tire any defense and can make even the best unit appear vulnerable. If the Ravens are to return to the post-season the offense must hold up it's part of the bargain and the running game has to be a part of it. Otherwise we may start seeing a shakeup of leadership in the future.