In the first few days of free agency, the Ravens seemed to be mired in a treacherous swamp of cap space difficulties and contract disputes. In the space of just two weeks, they lost six defensive starters from 2012 along with three offensive contributors, and many people assumed they would be down for the count.
Yet, where most folks saw vultures circling overhead, the Ravens saw it as business as usual. Sure, they lost two future Hall-of-Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but their play had declined precipitously during the past couple of seasons, and their loss, while significant, likely won't affect the team nearly as much as many previously suspected. Despite everything, the Ravens are in decent position to maintain the status quo.
And now, with the recent signings of players like Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens may even be clawing their way back into the plus column again.
While the newly-assembled Ravens' defense won't be as formidable as their early-2000's iteration, it will still pack quite a wallop in the pass rushing department. According to Bengals.com, LT Andrew Whitworth agrees with this sentiment.
"They're better rushing the passer now because they've got two strong physical guys that can push the pocket," Whitworth said. "(Paul) Kruger was a good rusher, but he was more of traditional guy. Now they have two perennial sack leaders across from each other. Dumervil has been great since he got in the league. He was injured for just that one season and had to recover from (a torn pectoral muscle), which is a tough injury for a pass rusher."
The combination of Dumervil and Suggs could certainly be a fly in the ointment for Bengals fans assuming an easy path to the AFC North champion title in 2013.
Yes, the Ravens still need to rebuild their linebacker corps, and yes, their secondary still has a few question marks. But the presence of a dominating pass rush can mitigate these shortcomings and even provide a boost for a struggling defensive unit. Moreover, as anyone who has watched a Bengals' game anytime in the past two years can attest, QB Andy Dalton occasionally (usually) struggles when facing pressure. And that is putting it mildly.
So perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to count the Ravens out before the season has even begun.
After all, if you'll pardon the Star Wars reference, we have only to look to the aftermath of the original Death Star to see the consequences of overconfidence in the face of perceived weakness. Thankfully, it appears that Whitworth, and presumably the rest of the Bengals, will not be repeating Grand Moff Tarkin's fateful mistake.
"They're going to be good. They've got a good offense. Their pass rush just got better. We still have to prove we can beat them on a consistent level."
Regardless of their offseason troubles, the Ravens still remain the reigning champs, and Whitworth and the rest of the Bengals seem to be preparing for them as such.