The Ravens welcome Monday Night Football to Baltimore in their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Preseason for the Ravens has raised as many questions as it has answered. On Monday night, the 2012 Baltimore Ravens will be revealed, and many expect to see a very different team than in years past.
Who are the Baltimore Ravens?
1. How closely will the Ravens stick to the up tempo offense they showcased in the preseason?
The Ravens offense created a lot of buzz, running primarily a no-huddle style offense from the first snap of preseason game one. While the starters series were limited, the new approach seemed to come together well in their third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the first extended action for the ones, they dominated the Jaguars defense, and quarterback Joe Flacco finished with 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 102.3
The players themselves are hyped about the fast paced attack, none more so than Flacco. The fifth year quarterback says he is having more fun than ever.
“The bottom line is, I’m happy we’re doing it,” said Flacco, “Very happy. Defenses have gotten so complicated. When you slow it down and get into a huddle before every play, you’re playing into their hands, allowing them to dictate the tempo of the game. This way, we take control of the game.”
Second year wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had a standout rookie season, agrees.
“I like it a lot. It’s tough on a defense, and they can’t substitute or get off the field,” Smith said. “And for us, we know what we’re doing, so we have to think on the fly. It benefits us in games because we practice that way anyway.”
There is speculation as to how the ravens will use the no-huddle during the regular season. All indications are that it will figure in heavily. If it does, will it be effective?
On Monday night, Baltimore's offense will take center stage, and what the nation sees might well be a very different style of purple and black.
2. Will the defense be able to generate a pass rush?
Confidence in the Ravens defense is at an all-time low heading into opening night. The Ravens are without either of the starting linebackers who solidified the ferocious front seven for years. Baltimore lost SAM linebacker Jarrett Johnson to free agency, and rush linebacker and 2011 defensive player of the year, Terrell Suggs, is on the PUP list with an Achilles tear.
The starting outside linebackers on Monday night will be Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan, who between them have a total combined two career starts.
The Ravens had six sacks in four preseason games, which has them tied for fourth lowest in the league. The secondary, their strongest looking unit going into preseason, performed poorly throughout.
Is it time to press the panic button? That question can't even be approached until Monday night. All teams tend to run fairly vanilla schemes in preseason, and players have confirmed that the defensive approach is going to be drastically different when Cincinnati comes to town.
Ravens fans can hold out hope that defensive coordinator Dean Pees has some creative plays in store for the Bengals and that he has the players to execute those plays.
3. Will the offensive line hold up for Flacco and Ray Rice?
The Ravens haven't announced who will be the starting left guard on Monday night. If it's Bobby Williams, Baltimore will cumulatively have the oldest line in the league. If it's Kelechi Osemele, who got schooled against the St. Louis Rams in preseason game four, they'll be starting a rookie. The concerns don't end there.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie reported to training camp late and overweight. He was nearly released by the team this past Tuesday over a contract dispute.
Meanwhile, 36 year old center Matt Birk was held out of action frequently during preseason practices and games. Birk had varicose vein surgery in the offseason, and he struggled down the stretch last season.
According to coaches, teammates, and the media, Flacco is looking more consistent, more decisive, and more confident than ever. Many predict he is poised to have a break out season. If the O-line isn't solid, however, break out could turn to just plain break.
Rice, behind one of the top fullbacks in the league Vonta Leach, still needs the offensive line to create holes for him. If the guys up front don't get the job done, neither can he.
It remains to be seen how the line will fare Monday night against a talented Cincinnati defense. The answer to this question will be key to whether the Ravens enter week two looking like the perennial playoff team they have proven to be, or like a giant ready for a fall.