Not too long ago, Bart Scott proclaimed that the real head coach in Baltimore last year was Rex Ryan.
Conveniently, Scott and Ryan -- the former Baltimore defensive coordinator -- are both in New York now. Ryan is New York’s new head coach; Scott is his high paid free agent linebacker.
And John Harbaugh -- the Ravens second-year coach -- is trying to prove he can get along without Rex Ryan.
The Cult of Rex has gotten a little nuts. Surely the man knows defense, but he didn’t invent the concept. For four years, he was the Ravens defensive coordinator and they finished 10th, first, 22nd and third in the NFL in the most important defensive category: points allowed. Before he took over, they were first, fourth, 19th, sixth and sixth.
In short, the Ravens played good defense while Ryan was coaching earlier this decade at the University of Cincinnati and Oklahoma and they will likely continue to.
The concern for the Ravens is on offense Joe Flacco is trying to avoid the sophomore slump that hits so many young quarterbacks who find early success. And he’s trying to do so with skill position players that are below average. Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Ray Rice are their three big guns. Horrible players? No. Is there a real game-changer among them? No.
The great equalizer for the Ravens is an excellent offensive line bolstered by the drafting of offensive tackle Michael Oher. It’s a solid group that can cover a lot of relative inadequacies elsewhere.
Defensively, the Ravens roll out the same old faces minus Scott and Ryan. And even though Ed Reed, Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce are on the back nine (or the 17th fairway) of their careers, you cannot discount their talent and predict a fall off because every time they’re written off, they respond.
Expect the Ravens to be a little low on flash, pretty high on wins when it’s all said and done.
Key player: Flacco. The best thing about Flacco as a rookie was that he didn’t play like a rookie. He took what was in front of him, ran the offense and didn’t try to find out what he couldn’t do. He needs to remain as level-headed in his second season.
Rookie to watch: Oher. An absolute steal getting him with the 23rd overall pick in the first round. He starts right out of the chutes for this team.
Best veteran acquisition: Domonique Foxworth. The corner was solid with the Falcons last year and should be even better in a defense that gets after the quarterback even better.
Key game: Week Two at Chargers. After a likely walkover against Kansas City, the Chargers defense gets a legit test on the West Coast with San Diego. Good checkpoint game for both teams.