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NFL Commentary: Reasons Why the Defending Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens, Have Been Struggling in 2013?
The 'Super Bowl Curse.'
Just like in the Madden NFL video game franchise has the 'Madden Curse', the NFL also has a phrase coined as the 'Super Bowl Curse'. In the National Football League, the Super Bowl Curse refers to teams that participated in or won the Super Bowl, only to follow it up with not making the playoffs the following season, or performing way below expectations.
The AFC's Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII back in early February of this year. The Ravens pulled off several close upset victories during their playoff run, as their then on-the-field leader, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, was playing in his final season in the NFL. It was a storybook season and ending for the Ravens, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in one of the most exciting, yet interesting Super Bowl games played in recent years.
Coming off their Super Bowl victory, there were several questions up in the air as to how successful the Ravens could be during the 2013-2014 NFL season. Fans of the Ravens obviously had high hopes, and I can clearly remember ESPN commentator Chris Berman, predicting another Super Bowl title for the defending champs before the season began. I have to admit that I probably displayed a raised eyebrow when I heard Berman saying this.
The current NFL season has been filled with ups and downs for the Ravens. It can be argued that they've experienced more downs up to this point, as the team currently has a losing record of 3-5, and are currently 3rd in the AFC North. With the emergence of the Cincinnati Bengals in this division, there are questions as to whether or not the Ravens are even a playoff team at this point .
So why have the Baltimore Ravens struggled so far during the 2013 NFL season? I don't know all the answers, but I'm going to provide the reasons why I think that the Super Bowl Curse has lived on, and has maybe cast it's fury down upon the Ravens.
Off Season Losses and Acquisitions.
There are often two ways of viewing teams that most sporting fans think of when it comes to championship caliber teams. A team can either be put together solely for the purpose of winning a title, or a team starts at the bottom and builds a team through free agency and drafting. When we think of the Ravens, there was a bit of both methods that took place for them to win the title last season. However, the question as to whether or not the Ravens would be as good the following season would become apparent in the off season.
Headed into last season, the Ravens were viewed as being an "old" team in terms of their players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was 37 last season, and was playing in his 17th and final season. Free safety Ed Reed(35), had played in all 16 games last season, but looked to be declining as fast as his production was. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and although Suggs recovered from the injury to play most of 2012, he clearly wasn't as healthy as he had been in previous seasons.
With an aging veteran defense and several of their key franchise players clearly on their way out of football, general manger Ozzie Newsome decided to not only to make the franchise a younger team, but also develop into more of an offensive team. This was a big turnaround, as the Ravens had been known for their defensive prowess for the majority of the past decade. The franchise also decided to make their Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco one of the highest paid players in the NFL, and this in turn would put the franchise on Flacco's shoulders.
Besides Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, here some key losses and acquisitions during the off season for the Baltimore Ravens.
- Wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, traded to the San Fransisco 49ers.
- Center, Matt Birk, retired.
- DE/OLB, Paul Kruger, signed with the Cleveland Browns.
- Inside linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe, signed with the Miami Dolphins.
- Safety, Bernard Pollard, signed with the Tennessee Titans
- Defensive end, Chris Canty
- Outside linebacker, Elvis Dumervil
Why Have the Baltimore Ravens Struggled Up To This Point?
Now that I've laid out some of the key losses and additions the Baltimore Ravens had during the off season, I'm going to get into the reasons why I think they're struggling so far this year. If you've watched any Baltimore Ravens games, or if you even follow this team remotely, I'm fairly certain that you'll find these observations painfully obvious.
- Where Is the Joe Flacco From Last Season?: One thing that always worry fans and the upper management of a team when they make a quarterback their QB of the future is whether or not that quarterback will be motivated going forward. Joe Flacco earned himself a gigantic $120 million dollar contract after leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl victory last season. The contract not only made Flacco one of the highest paid quarterbacks ever, but also one of the highest paid players in NFL history. Has Flacco become relaxed with receiving so much money? It appears that he may have. Through 8 games this season, Flacco has thrown 10 touchdown passes, and 9 interceptions. Also, besides the NFL's opening night where the Raven played the Denver Broncos, Flacco hasn't appeared to exhibit that confidence that he displayed in last year's post season. When the Ravens became an offense first minded squad, the success of the team fell on Flacco's shoulders. If the Ravens are going to make any kind of push towards making the playoffs, Flacco has got to play better.
- Poor Play On the Offensive Line: As bad as Joe Flacco's performances have been this season, much of it isn't entirely his fault. The Ravens offensive line has been absolutely atrocious so far this season. Not only have the Ravens not been able to run the ball effectively, their quarterback is getting hit and hurried way too much. Over the eight games that the Ravens have played this season, Flacco has been sacked 25 times total. Taking all of these hits certainly doesn't help with a quarterback's confidence, which is something Flacco seems to be lacking this season. The Ravens O-line has got to play better if this team is going to be successful in the second half of the season.
- No Possession Receivers: The Baltimore Ravens have two talented wide receivers in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but are they really possession receivers? I don't think they are. Losing Anquan Boldin was a big blow to the Ravens offense. Boldin isn't a flashy nor athletic player at this stage of his career, but he was effective at helping move the chains for the Ravens last season. Torrey Smith is a talented receiver, but he's more of a deep threat type of player. There's nothing wrong with being a deep threat, but a team has to have an effective running game for the deep ball and play action passes to be effective. The Ravens haven't run the ball well at all this season.
- Ray Rice Has Been M.I.A.: If you're a fantasy football player like me, and you drafted Ray Rice first in your fantasy league, then you know all to well that Rice has been missing in action. For the past several years, Rice has been a duel threat for the Ravens offensively. Rice has been a 1,000 yard rusher four out of his previous 5 seasons, and he has caught 60 passes or more in that same time span. Unfortunately this season, Rice is only averaging 2.7 yards per rush, and he hasn't been able to break away from defenders after the first contact. Not to down Rice completely -- he has been hampered by a hamstring injury earlier in the season, but he claims to be healthy now. The poor play of the offensive line also helps attribute to Rice's less-than-stellar play so far. The Ravens once again needs the Ray Rice of the past few seasons to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
- Who Is the Ravens On the Field Leader Now?: Besides the head coach, every team needs a member of that team to step up and be a leader. Someone that motivates the entire team - keeps morale high - and fires everyone up to play. For the past 17 years, that leader for the Ravens had been Ray Lewis. Lewis always played with an intense passion and desire, and that seems to be lacking on this current Ravens team. So who is that player/leader that can bring that back once again? Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, or Torrey Smith? I honestly don't know. What I do think is that the organization expected it to become Flacco. However, whether or not Flacco can be that leader of the future is a question that's open ended.
Will the Baltimore Ravens make the playoffs this year?
Going Forward in 2013.
So are the Baltimore Ravens done this season? Is Ray Rice washed up like so many are saying, even at the still young age of 26? Did Joe Flacco deserve the amount of money he received? Are the Ravens missing Ray Lewis's and Ed Reed's presence on defense? I don't know the answer to all these questions, but what I do think is that the Ravens are different team than they've been in recent years.
I think that the Ravens are possibly going through somewhat of mode of re-identifying themselves. I think that this is a team that has gotten younger, and are still in the process of trying to figure out exactly what style of team they're looking to be. At this point, I'm not so certain that this process of redefining themselves fits with them successfully defending their championship from last season. However, there is still a lot of football left to be played, so anything is possible.
Unfortunately for the Baltimore Ravens, the sledding doesn't get any easier heading down the season's home stretch. This week in week number 10, the Ravens will look to end their three game losing streak when they welcome their division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are currently 6-3, and are atop the AFC North division. This will be a crucial game for the Ravens if they have hopes of making the postseason. Here's a look at the rest of the Ravens schedule.
- Week 10: Cincinnati Bengals
- Week 11: at Chicago Bears
- Week 12: New York Jets
- Week 13: Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 14: Minnesota Vikings
- Week 15: at Detroit Lions
- Week 16: New England Patriots
- Week 17: at Cincinnati Bengals
The good thing for the Ravens is that only three of their last eight games will be on the road. The bad thing is that the remainder of their schedule will be against fairly quality opposition. For the sake of the fans of the Baltimore Ravens, I hope that dreaded 'Super Bowl Curse' doesn't continue for their team. However, with the emergence of the Bengals as a potential powerhouse in the AFC, it's hard for me to be optimistic for the Ravens this season.