Before we get to the good stuff, let's take a quick peek back at what has gone down since the Ravens fell to the Patriots last January. First, we'll look at the new Ravens that were selected in the 2012 NFL Draft:
Round 2: LB Courtney Upshaw-Alabama
Round 2: G/T Kelechi Osemele-Iowa State
Round 3: RB Bernard Pierce-Temple
Round 4: G/C Gino Gradkowski-Delaware
Round 4: S Christian Thompson-South Carolina State
Round 5: CB Asa Jackson-Cal Poly
Round 6: WR Tommy Streeter-Miami
Round 7: DE DeAngelo Tyson-Georgia
Undrafted Rookies to Make the Team:
K Justin Tucker-Texas
RB Bobby Rainey-Western Kentucky
WR Deonte Thompson-Florida
These three players worked especially hard to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Tucker beat out veteran K Billy Cundiff to earn the starting kicker role. Rainey earned a spot as the 3rd string running back behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Thompson took advantage of injuries and a lack of depth to earn a spot as a special teamer, as well as an added receiver when needed.
Well ladies and gentlemen, we're back. The football season has officially begun, and your Baltimore Ravens will begin their season in front of a national audience on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, a further look at what your 2012 Ravens team will look like on the field. Here are some of the players who the Ravens lost to free agency over the off-season, as well as their new team:
LB Jarret Johnson-Chargers
G Ben Grubbs-Saints
DE Cory Redding-Colts
Redding will join former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who is now in his first season as Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Now, here are some of the additions made to this year's Ravens team:
WR/KR Jacoby Jones
CB Corey Graham
S Sean Considine
Jones is not expected to have a big role in the offense, but he is a big threat on special teams as a punt and kick returner.
Last year, Ravens LB Terrell Suggs won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. During the off-season, Suggs tore his Achilles while working out, and is now out indefinitely. He isn't expected to return until November. Filling his place as outside linebacker and pass rusher will be a committee of Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, and Courtney Upshaw. LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed, the longtime cornerstones of the Ravens defense, are back again this year. Much has been said about Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who, after struggling throughout last season, had a career game in New England. Many have questioned his consistency, but there's no doubt that he can do big things when he is clicking. We often see Flacco get rattled under pressure. In a season with a tough schedule, Flacco especially needs to step up this year and lead the Ravens offense. He will have the support of RB Ray Rice, the undisputed focal point of the Ravens offensive strategy. Rice had a career year in 2011, and will look to continue his progress this season. WR Torrey Smith, a rookie last year, will continue to be Flacco's main downfield threat. Anquan Boldin will be a key short yardage receiver, as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who will both return from injuries in the coming weeks.
The Bengals finished 9-7 last year, earning themselves a Wild Card berth before losing to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round. Their impressive season came as a result of great quarterback play from Andy Dalton, a rookie last year. Dalton and fellow rookie, WR A.J. Green, quickly established themselves as a combination to fear in the years to come. Green's size and ability to haul in any ball in his vicinity makes him one of the best young receivers in the league. The Bengals lost RB Cedric Benson over the off-season, but signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a similar style back, who will start on Monday night. On defense, the Bengals are led by DT Domata Peko, who has had his way with the Ravens offensive line in the past. He will need to be controlled in order for Joe Flacco to be comfortable in the pocket.
Prediction: Both teams have the opportunity to make a statement on national television here in Week 1. The Ravens will try to show that their aging defense still has its intensity against an explosive Bengals passing game. If the Ravens secondary can slow down A.J. Green, the lack of further support in the passing game should limit Andy Dalton's production. The Bengals will try to show that 2011 was not a fluke, and that Dalton and Green will not fall into a sophomore slump. Ultimately, both teams will be on an emotional high on the gridiron Monday night. In a battle that will be decided late, I have the Ravens winning, 23-17.
Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Bengals:
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green Edge: Push
Analysis: These are two top class players at their respective positions. All I can say is that it will be fun to watch.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton Edge: Reed
Analysis: Reed's instincts and experience will once again general the Ravens secondary. He'll take advantage of every mistake the young Dalton makes.
Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals DE Domata Peko Edge: Peko
Analysis: Peko has shown great consistency in getting to the quarterback. Birk won't be able to control him for all 60 minutes.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Bengals LB Rey Maualuga Edge: Rice
Analysis: Despite Maualuga's athleticism, Rice's speed and breakout ability will thrust him forward to another Pro Bowl-caliber year.
CB Asa Jackson-Illness-QST
T Jah Reid-Leg-QST
CB Dre Kirkpatrick-Knee-OUT
DE Carlos Dunlap-Knee-OUT
RB Bernard Scott-Hand-OUT
All of Ravens Nation is in mourning this weekend. Former Ravens owner Art Modell passed away Thursday morning at the age of 87. An NFL visionary, Mr. Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, and was a majority team owner until 2004. From experience, Mr. Modell was a kind, generous man, and he will be missed greatly by the entire NFL community. Please keep Mr. Modell and his family in your thoughts and prayers as you enjoy the first weekend of NFL football in 2012.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, have a great week and Go Ravens!