The Cincinnati Bengals ended the 2016 season with a win at home against the Baltimore Ravens and they’ll look to start the 2017 season the same way. We spoke with Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown to preview the 2017 Ravens and get the inside scoop on what to expect from the Bengals’ AFC North foe and first opponent of the 2017 regular season.
Notable free agent additions: S Tony Jefferson, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Brandon Carr, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Brandon Boykin, DT Brandon Williams, DB Lardarius Webb,
Notable free agent departures: WR Steve Smith Sr., ILB Zachary Orr, RT Ricky Wagner, OLB Elvis Dumervil, FB Kyle Juszczyk, WR Kamar Aiken, FS Kendrick Lewis, CB Shareece Wright, DE Lawrence Guy, CB Jerraud Powers
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
CB Marlon Humphrey -- First round pick Marlon Humphrey wasn’t expected to contribute with the defensive back overhaul this offseason, but the tradition of losing a cornerback before training camp struck once again as star-in-the-making, cornerback Tavon Young suffered an ACL tear in training camp. Now, Humphrey will be either outside at #2, or pushed inside to the slot, depending upon his competition with Brandon Carr and Maurice Canady in training camp and the preseason.
OLB Tyus Bowser: An outside linebacker with the all the athletic gifts of a pass rushing terror, Bowser’s speed, power and agility can help bring about pressure from Ravens other than Terrell Suggs. He may find reps as an inside backer, as Zachary Orr left and Kamalei Correa’s status remains up-in-the-air.
OLB Tim Williams: An Alabama linebacker is another tradition Baltimore loves. Williams’ stock fell heavily during the draft, from expected Ravens first round pick to third round. He’ll fit in nicely as a third down specialist.
OL Nico Siragusa: Baltimore currently is missing two pieces to their offensive line, and Marshal Yanda can’t do everything. If Baltimore moves Alex Lewis to right tackle, Siragusa has a shot at starting. If the team keeps James Hurst at right tackle, he’ll be fighting for a backup spot.
Biggest offseason addition:
Tony Jefferson is undoubtedly the biggest addition of the offseason, though the re-signing of Brandon Williams is a close second. Eric Weddle is praising his partner at safety, Jefferson, already. With two dominant safeties, the Ravens won’t be fun to play against, especially as both top rank five in run-stop ability. Dean Pees will hopefully use his creativity to unlock their true potential.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
Zachary Orr’s return from retirement and likely inability to re-sign with the Ravens is #1.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
The Ravens defensive signings have been completely overshadowed by the signing of Jeremy Maclin. Yes, it’s exciting to see the Ravens get a receiver, but Baltimore spent almost $120 million this offseason on defensive players, which has made Maclin’s signing seem less important.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: CB Tavon Young (tore ACL in OTAs; done for year), TE Dennis Pitta (re-injured hip; waived)
Suspensions: TE Darren Waller (one year), RB Kenneth Dixon (four games)
Cincy Jungle: What were the best parts of the Ravens' offseason?
Baltimore Beatdown: The acquisition of Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. While re-signing Brandon Williams was a big step, solidifying the Ravens secondary was of greater importance. In season’s past, as Jimmy Smith would miss out on games due to injury, the secondary fell apart. Now, with depth signings and the blue chip safety addition, Baltimore's coverage can secure leads. I'm pointing fingers at the fourth quarter black magic with A.J. Green specifically. Honorable mention to signing Jeremy Maclin. Nothing like figuring out your team is allowed to have talented receivers.
CJ: What were the worst parts of the offseason?
BB: Many things, unfortunately. Zach Orr's retirement, and now his return to the NFL, with no talks of rejoining his squad in Baltimore. Tavon Young, a top five rookie corner last season, tore his ACL during OTAs. Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip a second time, after fracturing his hip many seasons ago. His NFL career is over.
CJ: What do you think of your draft class?
BB: As everybody thinks with their team’s rookie class, they look great. I'm confident Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta drafted well. The potential is there, but I'm exhausted with the word potential. I want production, and we won't see more until camp.
CJ: What are your expectations for Joe Flacco this year?
BB: Better than last season, at least. Joe is now a year removed from his ACL injury. He played great on the back-half of the 2016-2017 season. He also has Maclin as a weapon to pair with Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. The weapons are there, it's up to Marty Mornhinweg to give the offense a chance.
CJ: What's your expectation for how the team will perform as a whole? Do you see a lot of room for improvement from last year?
BB: I expect improvement. Last season we witnessed the Ravens crumble and fall apart near the end of games. The defense couldn't hold strong when called on. Now, every defensive position is loaded with potential. Turning it into production is key, and I see the Ravens better than .500.
CJ: What's the strongest position group on the roster?
BB: Before Young's ACL injury, I had cornerback as the Ravens strength. After though, I look towards safety. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are both top 10 safeties. Lardarius Webb is great depth for back-up and three safety looks. Dean Pees has enough coverage talent to throw in safety and corner blitz packages.
CJ: How about weakest position group?
BB: The Ravens are a mixed bag at edge rusher. Terrell Suggs is fighting father time every season, and the rest of the group is unknown. Matt Judon, Za'Darius Smith, and the upcoming rookies are all loaded with potential, but we haven't seen production.
CJ: What's your biggest concern when it comes to the Bengals?
BB: Until he is locked down, it will always be A.J. Green in the fourth quarter. Baltimore will cover him and blanket him for three quarters, but if the Ravens lead by 4+ points in the fourth, A.J. Green will score.