The 2007 Baltimore Ravens will showcase a suffocating defense (again) and a new-look offense. This is an aging team. Nine of the 22 starters are 30 or older, including stars Ray Lewis, Steve McNair, Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle and Trevor Pryce. It may be now or never for the Ravens.
Steve McNair played well last season. The Ravens intend to utilize multiple formations this season, which should suit McNair, who is good at improving and reading defenses. McNair likes to check down, so expect the backs and tight ends to catch a lot of passes.
Willis McGahee replace Jamal Lewis at running back. McGahee is younger, more versatile and will be the lone back in three- and four-receiver sets most of the time, as the Ravens spread things out. Expect less downhill running plays and more tosses, sweeps, traps and misdirection plays with McGahee toting the rock.
With WR's Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams to go along with TE Todd Heap, the Ravens have four solid receiving options to utilize on the field at the same time. OC Rick Neuheisel will be able to exploit many mismatches with this quartet.
The offensive line will be missing Tony Pashos and Edwin Mulitalo from last year's starting cast. They still have huge Jonathan Ogden at left tackle. Adam Terry takes over for Pashos at right tackle. Terry is more versatile than Pashos, but not as strong. Jason Brown should replace Mulitalo at left guard. First-round draft pick Ben Grubbs (guard, Auburn) will not start right away, but expect him to find his way way into the starting line before too long.
You have to love this defense, unless you're a fan of their AFC North foes. DC Rex Ryan loves to blitz. The Ravens will blitz at least 70% of the time and from all areas of the field. They move players around a lot, making it difficult to prepare to play against this unit.
The line is solid with Trevor Pryce at one end and the huge 340-pound Haloti Ngata at the other end. Pryce possesses a good combination of power and speed. Ngata routinely fights through double-teams and is amazingly quick for someone his size. Kelly Gregg anchors the middle and excels at stopping the run.
The loss of Adalius Thomas will not be as significant as some may think. They still have Ray Lewis, who can play strong or weak side in a 4-3 alignment and also inside in a 3-4 scheme. Bart Scott plays inside with Lewis in 3-4 alignments. Scott is coming off a breakout season and may be asked to assume some of Thomas' roles. Jarrett Johnson may then be asked to take over much of Scott's blitzing responsibility. Then there's Terrell Suggs. Suggs is a pass-rushing demon, who just happens to be playing for a new contract. Opponents beware.
The Ravens are solid at corner, with veterans Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. Rolle cave up too many big plays last season, but played better as the season wore on. Free safety Ed Reed is a playmaking machine in the secondary. Strong safety Dawan Landry is a big hitter with good size and a muscular build.
Kicker Matt Stover is one of the best clutch kickers in the game. Punter Sam Koch pinned opponents inside the 20 on a regular basis last season. The coverage units are solid. BJ Sams is returning from a broken ankle and must prove he's healthy. The Ravens drafted Yamon Figurs in the third round as insurance. The super-speedy Figurs is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
If McGahee and the o-line come together, it'll be another double-digit win total for the Ravens this season. They'll battle the Bengals and Steelers for the AFC North title and a play spot. I see them finishing 10-6 and learning a Wildcard play spot.