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Season preview: 2011 Ravens


Offense: For a team that has seemingly a run-first offense, the Baltimore Ravens didn't run the ball well last season. They finished 28th in yards per attempt -- that isn't good enough, and has to improve. Ray Rice is a top back, so much of it has to fall on the offensive line. They weren't as good in 2010, and there is still uncertainty up front. Bryant McKinnie will help -- if he's in shape. The passing game was 20th last season. That has to be better, too. Joe Flacco has to be given more to do down the field. The problem is the receivers didn't scare down the field last season. The addition of Lee Evans might help. Anquan Boldin is more of a possession receiver. The success of this offense will be predicated on Rice doing more and Flacco becoming more consistent. For that to become a reality, it means getting the offensive line set. On paper, it looks sound if McKinnie can play. If not, the line could be trouble.

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Defense: The Baltimore defense was third in points allowed last season and should be up there again. The front seven features several top-tier players including end Haloti Ngata, linebacker Ray Lewis and pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. Lewis is the heart of the defense, and while he doesn't run like he once did, he remains an effective player on the inside of the defense. The pass rush has to be better. The Ravens were last in the NFL in sacks per pass play season, which is surprising considering the team's reputation. The back end is led by All-Pro safety Ed Reed. He is a ball-hawking player who had eight interceptions despite playing 10 games in 2010. He doesn't tackle like he once did because of neck troubles, but he remains a fear for opposing quarterbacks. The corner position has seemingly been a trouble spot for a long time, but the Ravens think they have talent there now. Veterans Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth are in the mix, as is third-year player Cary Williams, who has had a good summer, and rookie Jimmy Smith. Lardarius Webb is a young talent who will likely be in the nickel mix. If they get more from the pass rush, the Ravens defense will once again be a top-level unit.

Coaching and schemes: John Harbaugh has done a nice job of getting this team close to a Super Bowl. But you aren't graded by close. They have to find a way to get there. Harbaugh is an intense coach who doesn't always rub his players the right way. He can be rigid to a fault. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to get Rice more involved and he needs to know when to call the deep shots. Chuck Pagano is in his first season running the defense. Don't expect major changes; the Ravens will still be aggressive. Pagano, who was the team's secondary coach, is a rising star in the profession.

Outlook: The Ravens will push the Steelers in the division. This is a talented team. But until they throw it better down the field, and until they rush the passer better, the Steelers have the edge. The offensive line is a concern, too.

Predicted finish: 10-6, second in AFC North.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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