In breaking NFL News yesterday, the Ravens made another major acquisition at the wide receiver spot. They picked up one of the best possession receivers the League has to offer. One of the toughest wide outs in the League. A guy who has a distinct familiarity with the AFC North. A man who has a very recognizable pony tail. The man with the longest last name in the game (tied with Big Ben). None other than the former Oregon State, Cincinnati Bengal, and Seattle Seahawk’s star, TJ Houshmandzadeh (14 letters).
And boy was this a major pick up for Baltimore, who recently saw off-season acquisition, Donte Stallworth, go down with a broken foot. It is truly amazing to me how much the look of a team can change during the course of a decade. In the year 2000, Baltimore not only sported the well-known and highly acclaimed drug wire, but they also sported quite possibly the meanest, baddest, and best all around defense of all time. Records were set, and the reputation of this unit was just flat-out scary. And even though the Ravens over the past few years have developed a better and more reliable offense each year, they have still always been known as a defense first team. Well that is all about to change. Talk a about an off-season makeover.
The Ravens possibly sport the most dangerous offense in the AFC North now, and maybe even the League (hard to say until we see them in action). They have the prototypical NFL Pocket Passer in Joe Flacco. They have an outstanding 3 headed (not your normal 2 headed) attack in the back field, made up of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy, Le’Ron McClain. And now they have quite possibly the best receiving unit in the League with the newly acquired vet, in TJ Houshmandzadeh. They have Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and TJ. Plus they have when healthy, one of the League’s most consistent tight ends over the past 10 years in Todd Heap. Can the offensive line hold up? Michael Oher, Mr. Blindside himself, continues to show great progress. Ben Grubbs has progressed at guard. And Matt Birk is a very savvy and dare I say intelligent (Harvard grad) Center. The offensive line is always the real question when discussing the fate of most offensive units in the NFL. But there are not too many teams that can say they sport the weapons at the skill positions on offense that the Ravens have. Lastly, offensively, they have a very solid back up quarterback in Marc Bulger. If Flacco were to go down with an injury, they have a QB who has been in the League for 10 years and a starter for 7 of them. A guy who though he has declined over the past few years, provides the Ravens with an opportunity to still make the playoffs if their starter goes down. Now how many teams can confidently say that if their starting quarterback were to go down early in the year, that they could ride their backup to a playoff appearance? I will give you a hint, not many.
Now defensively, the Ravens are not what they once were. And out of the teams that appear to be contenders, they probably have the most glaring weakness of anyone. They have no proven cornerbacks! And in a division that has teams like the Bengals, with some major big play receivers, this could hurt. But they do still have a great linebacking unit led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. They have a solid D line, and of course Ed Reed (who will be back by Week 6 or 7), holding down the safety spot.
But back to the addition of TJ. Joe Flacco is now entering his 3rd year in the NFL, and his 3rd year as a full-time starter. What are the 3 keys to any quarterback’s success in this League? An offensive line that can protect him and give him time to get the ball out. A strong rushing attack that keeps the defense honest. And a sure handed possession receiver. Well with the addition of TJ, at least of two of those keys to success are taken care of (O-Line appears solid, but is always a question with any team). Flacco has been able to work with solid receivers such as Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, but he has never had a guy who is as tough and sure handed as TJ. This guy has had 70 or more catches for 6 consecutive seasons. He has a total of 5 fumbles in his 9 year career (as a receiver). The guy gets you yards flat-out. Come 3rd down, the Ravens are going to be very happy they signed this guy. The real question is can TJ fit in with Ray Lewis and the boys in the locker room?
It has been somewhat undocumented, but there have always been rumors of TJ not being the most well liked guy behind the scenes in the locker room. Honestly, I do not see this being a problem in that the guy appears to be in a win now mode, as are the Ravens. Not to mention the Ravens have Ray Lewis patrolling the locker room and making sure all the guys are on the same page. With this major acquisition yesterday, the Ravens could be flying high this season. The magic for Baltimore starts next Monday in a date with the New York Jets.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.