Ravens season preview: Defense masks weaknesses


Around the NFL's season preview continues with the AFC North

Change we can believe in

Ozzie Newsome is the shrewdest general manager in the NFL. So when he traded away Haloti Ngata in the offseason, bells should have been going off in everyone's head. LOUD BELLS!!! We aren't even talking about Ngata's future production in this case, it's the studs that have been unleashed by moving the veteran. Nose tackle Brandon Williams is in contention for the most overlooked dominant defensive lineman. His run-stuffing ability could outdistance Ngata at this stage. Teaming him with Timmy Jernigan, a gap-penetrating beast, gives the Ravens' front a devastating combination.

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Joined by the pass-rush duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, along with stud second-year linebacker C.J. Mosley, the Ravens' front seven will win them a lot of games in 2015.

Biggest concern

Outside of Steve Smith Sr., the wide receiver questions are deep in Baltimore. Breshad Perriman doesn't appear like he's going to make a big contribution anytime soon. The quartet of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller scares exactly zero defenses. Smith has looked phenomenal in the preseason, but the 36-year-old has little help to distract coverage. New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman loves throwing to the running backs, so we expect the Ravens to utilize the backfield weapons to supplement the passing attack, but that won't help the cannon-armed Joe Flacco's deep game.

Training camp surprise

When Ravens swiped pass-catching tight end Maxx Williams in the draft, we assumed he would move to the front of the line in Baltimore -- especially with Dennis Pitta remaining out. While that might happen eventually, Williams starts the season clearly behind Crockett Gillmore. With a dearth of pass catchers, the Ravens need the rookie tight end to aid the offense, even if it's a difficult position for first-year players to make an impact.

What we'll be saying in February

Did you see Steve Smith Sr. put up eye-popping numbers in his last hurrah? No doubt he's a Hall of Famer. Oh, that Ravens defense was pretty scary too.

Predicted finish: Second place in AFC North, No. 5 seed in AFC playoffs, No. 9 overall in Around the NFL's Power Poll.