5 ways Ravens must improve this season

5 ways Ravens must improve this season
July 15, 2013, 9:45 pm
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As the Ravens prepare to dust off the locker room and open training camp next week, they can walk by the shiny Vince Lombardi Trophy at their Under Armour Performance Center and assume all is right with their world.

But the last thing they want to be is complacent.

The Ravens are looking to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight season under John Harbaugh, and to do that, there are things they will want to improve upon from last season.

Hold on a second, you say. This team just won the Super Bowl. How can they improve on that? Fair point. But remember, this team was not without flaws. They lost four of five to end the regular season, but as running back Ray Rice vowed they would, they regrouped and got hot again in time to make a remarkable run that ended with a confetti shower in New Orleans.

If the Ravens want a chance at another such run, here are five things that must improve this season:

1. Cut down on penalties.

The Ravens were slapped with 1,127 penalty yards last season, by far the most in the league. In fact, only one other team was over 1,000 yards (Cleveland, 1,005). One main reason for that: The Ravens were whistled for a league-high 18 unnecessary roughness penalties. They had a beef with several of those, particularly some called on defensive backs, but it all added up to nearly 200 more penalty yards than their opponents.

2. Get Ed Dickson more involved as a receiver.

The Ravens tight end admitted during the OTAs that he never got in a groove after he missed most of training camp with a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason opener. Then he missed three midseason games with a knee injury. Dickson had 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011, but those numbers dropped sharply (21-225-0) last season. With Anquan Boldin gone, Dickson must become a more integral part of the passing game.

3. Stop the run.

The Ravens hardly resembled their historically ferocious defense at times last season, most notably early in the season when several teams ran wild on them. In back-to-back games, Kansas City and Dallas piled up more than 200 rushing yards on the Ravens. In defense of the Ravens defense, the unit was decimated at times by injuries and showed marked improvement later in the season. They have made several offseason moves that indicate that stopping the run is a major priority.

4.  Improve on third down.

The Ravens want to stay "on schedule," as they say. Translated, that means get good yardage on first and second down, leaving no worse than third-and-short. That didn't always happen last season. The Ravens last season converted 36.9 percent of their third-down chances, which ranked tied for 20th in the league. 

5. Take care of business on the road.

There's no denying that the Ravens rose to the occasion at Denver and at New England in the playoffs. But during the regular season they struggled on the road at times, particularly against subpar competition. They squeaked out an ugly 9-6 win at Kansas City and lost at Philadelphia, which finished 4-12. Joe Flacco had a regular-season quarterback rating of 99.0 at home, 74.9 on the road.