Talking Ravens with Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus

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The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Gordon McGuinness, who writes about the Ravens for Pro Football Focus.

MV: The Ravens just made Joe Flacco the NFL's highest-paid player (for now). Some say Flacco got paid too much. But looking ahead are there still key areas in which Flacco can potentially improve going forward?


GM: Absolutely. The big argument for Flacco was always that he was being held back by former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Whether or not that was the case, he certainly had his best run of performances after the change to Jim Caldwell. The challenge now becomes maintaining that consistency and ensuring that he doesn't let games get away from him like he has done in the past. On top of that, he'll always have room to grow on throws to his left -- he completed just 44.8 percent of his passes outside the left hash mark in 2012.

MV: Now that Flacco is under contract, which player should they turn their attention to next? Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams, Paul Kruger and Ed Reed are all scheduled to become free agents.


GM: While Flacco's cap number for 2013 looks like a good bit of business by Ozzie Newsome, Paul Kruger is likely to command enough that it would eat up the majority of that to bring him back. I didn't think Williams was worth the $5 million-per-year offer he received during the season, despite his playmaking ability, with far too many big plays being given up. Reed and Ellerbe are the most sensible options, but given the fact that the team has already lost Ray Lewis, and Jameel McClain is still on his way back from injury, coupled with his improved level of play in Dean Pees' scheme, Ellerbe should be the next man up in that regard.

MV: I'm intrigued by Reed, who continues to say he would like to return to Baltimore. Let's say that hypothetically he is open to a reasonable short-term deal. What does Reed have left as a player?

GM: Reed still has a place as a starter on an NFL defense, mainly due to his instincts. He remains a dangerous prospect for opposing quarterbacks -- proven by the fact that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady combined to throw six passes into Reed's coverage in four combined games against him. Still, he has become a liability as a tackler and it appears to be getting worse. His 15 missed tackles in the regular season were bad enough, but he added a further six in four postseason games.

MV: Two players who could potentially be salary cap casualties (or candidates for restructures) are Anquan Boldin and Vonta Leach. Given their salary cap numbers for 2013, should the Ravens bring them back?

GM: On Boldin, absolutely. Despite his growing age, Boldin continues to have the ability to take over a game for stretches, to the point that he was the Ravens' best player in the playoffs, for me anyway. While Boldin' cap number is high heading into 2013, Flacco continually looked for him late in the season and the Ravens would have a task on their hands to find a player who suits their offense better from the slot. Leach is more interesting. He is still one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league but it really depends on what the team wants to do offensively this year. It seems to suit Flacco more to spread it out with three and four receiver sets and, if that's the way they want to continue to go, it's hard to justify Leach's salary despite how good he is.

MV: Heading into free agency next week and then the draft next month, which critical areas must the Ravens address? And are there any sneaky needs flying under the radar that are being overlooked?

GM: Has to be nose tackle, where Ma'ake Kemoeatu failed to make much impact after signing a one-year deal before the 2012 season and Terrence Cody offers so little you have to wonder if he's even worthy of a roster spot. Far too often he was being manhandled by a single offensive lineman and driven back at least five yards from the line of scrimmage. It's frustrating because he has the size you look for in a space eating nose tackle, but just doesn't show up in games. The play of the offensive line in the playoffs after the switch in personnel has masked the issue, but the Ravens still need to make a decision there. Is Michael Oher at left tackle or a right tackle? Is Osemele a guard or a tackle? Do they bring back Bryant McKinnie? Either way, they'll need help on the offensive line this offseason, either at tackle or guard.

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