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32 Questions in 32 Days: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco

Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, Sports Jerks will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Baltimore Ravens – How will the losses of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed affect the team?

What better way to kick off the series than with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens? The Ravens virtually came out of nowhere to win the championship last season. After a 9-2 start, Baltimore was left for dead after dropping four of their final five regular season games. An amazing postseason run, however, propelled them to their second Super Bowl win.

Over the years Baltimore’s heart and soul has generally been its stout defense. The Ravens won a Super Bowl in 2001 with one of the best defenses the league has ever seen. Behind players such as Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, and Sam Adams, Baltimore set a record for all-time stinginess in a 16-game season, giving up only 165 points in the entire year. Other than star rookie running back Jamal Lewis, the Ravens had few offensive stars and relied on their ability to stop opposing offenses to win the championship.

The Ravens’ offense was far more potent last year when they won their second Super Bowl, but the defense was again solid, ranking 12th in points allowed. This offseason, however, saw the loss of two of the team’s defensive standouts over the past decade – linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

Make no mistake about it – the two were past their prime. Lewis, suffering a torn triceps injury, played in only six regular season games. Playing in his 17th season last year, he was markedly slower and made the right move in retiring after the Super Bowl. Having joined the Houston Texans this offseason, Reed is still playing. However, 2013 marks his 12th NFL season and he’s slowed down a bit as well. He averaged six interceptions a season over his first nine years in the league, but in 2011 and 2012, averaged only 3.5. Reed is still making tackles, but as evidenced by his 42 passes defended over the past three years (the most of any three-year stretch in his career outside of his first three seasons), opposing quarterbacks are throwing the ball his direction a bit more and getting away with it as he isn’t picking off nearly as many passes.

Lewis and Reed have both been exemplary players on the field, but over the past few years have seen their skills decline. They have been solid starters, but a great deal of their value was also tied up in their leadership as well.

So how will Baltimore respond?

The Ravens shouldn’t be too much worse off if you take everything into consideration. Much of what the pair brought to the table was leadership and in quarterback Joe Flacco, Baltimore has that. Flacco has often been undervalued because of his perceived inability to ‘win the big one.’ With a Super Bowl ring now, that all changes. Sure, Trent Dilfer won a ring with the Ravens in 2001, but his role was to manage games. Flacco wins them and is the most important player the team has. He now becomes their unquestioned leader and it’s far easier to lead with a winning track record.

The discussion whether Flacco is one of the top quarterbacks in the league is up for debate. What’s not in question is that he’s now a bona fide winner who has proven the ability to lead a team beyond regular season success.

On defense, the Ravens will replace Lewis and Reed with younger components. Baltimore hopes that highly-touted second-round draft pick Arthur Brown can help fill the void at one of the inside linebacker spots. At safety, the Ravens have inked veteran Michael Huff, who is almost five years younger than Reed. Huff isn’t the player Reed was, but in the prime of his career, could be nearly as productive as the aging star.

The Ravens also added several other key free agents, including Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Elvis Dumervil. He should immediately help offset the losses of Lewis and Reed.

The Ravens won’t be able to make up for Lewis and Reed in terms of leadership in 2013, but don’t look for Baltimore to take a big step back without them.

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