Baltimore Ravens 2015 Year In Review: Exposed By Injuries

Finishing with just five wins in 2015 was an unwelcomed change for the fans in Baltimore. Can the Ravens get back to their winning ways in 2016?

Since their Super Bowl win in 2000, the Baltimore Ravens have been one of the most consistently successful franchises in football. 

Due in large part to a solid front office headed by Ozzie Newsome and very little coaching turnover -- just two head coaches during that span -- the Ravens have finished below .500 just three times since 2000.

That previous level of sustained winning only serves to emphasize last season’s 5-11 finish as one of the worst in franchise history. Every team deals with injuries but as you’ll see, the Ravens were hit extremely hard in 2015, and at key positions.

Let’s take a closer look at why the Ravens struggled so mightily last season, what they actually did well, and where the organization goes from here in an attempt to regain their recognition as one of the league’s elite franchises.

What Went Right

On offense, Kamar Aiken was a revelation last season. Picking up the slack for Steve Smith following a season-ending injury, Aiken finished as the team leader in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. 

Aiken’s efficiency metrics weren’t remarkable, ranking 22nd in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) among 32 receivers with 100 or more targets, but his production after assuming the WR1 role was still impressive.

At age 26, Aiken has the size and athleticism to assume Steve Smith’s long-held WR1 role for Baltimore, even with the free-agent addition of Mike Wallace and the debut of a (assumed) now-healthy Breshad Perriman on the horizon. At the very least, he provides a quality depth option with a ceiling for more.

C.J. Mosley took over as the leader of the Ravens’ defense, topping the team in tackles (76) and chipping in with four sacks from his inside linebacker position. Baltimore invested premium draft capital on Mosely in the 2014 Draft and, as is the case more often than not, it looks like a very good decision from the Ravens’ front office during the evaluation process. 

What Went Wrong

It’s always difficult for a team to lose its starting quarterback to injury mid-season. But in the case of the 2015 Ravens, at 3-7 at the time of Flacco’s injury, the season was already essentially lost.

After 10 games, Flacco had performed near his career-long averages in terms of efficiency metrics:

Year Drop Backs Passing NEP Passing NEP/P Passing Success Rate
2015 429 26.06 0.06 46.85%
Career Avg. 541 31.40 0.06 44.69%

In the six games following Flacco’s injury, the Ravens were forced to start a laughable combination of quarterbacks including Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Schaub

While Flacco’s season through 10 games wasn’t overly spectacular, you can see that when compared to his replacements, his absence was painfully obvious:

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP Passing NEP/P Passing Success Rate
Ryan Mallett 249 -6.98 -0.03 40.56%
Jimmy Clausen 131 -24.70 -0.19 38.93%
Matt Schaub 83 -3.79 -0.05 48.19%

Quarterback wasn’t the only position on offense that failed to live up to pre-season expectations.

The marriage of Justin Forsett and new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was hailed as a match made in heaven. Forsett’s pass-catching ability combined with Trestman’s history of supporting pass-catching running backs made Forsett a popular second-round pick in fantasy drafts.

Forsett was middling in terms of efficiency -- ranking 21st in Rushing NEP among 44 qualified runners on a per play basis -- and tallied just 31 receptions in 10 games, scoring only 2 total touchdowns.

Javorius Allen stepped in after Forsett went down to injury, registering 45 receptions in just 6 games. And while those raw numbers are helpful, especially for PPR leagues, Allen was horrendously inefficient running the ball ranking 42nd among 44 qualified rushers in Rushing NEP per play.

At age 30, coming off injury, and with a limited track record of success, Forsett is likely staring down his last chance at a meaningful role as an NFL running back in 2016.

On defense, Baltimore lost their leader -- both literally and physically -- to injury in Week 1. Terrell Suggs has been ultra-productive over the last five seasons and with no one on the roster to replace him, Baltimore struggled to provide the pass rush they so often relied upon in the past to supplement their pass defense.

Moving Forward

While Baltimore has made a few notable moves so far in free agency -- Mike Wallace, Eric Weddle, and Benjamin Watson -- there’s still more work to be done.

Wallace has a reputation for field-stretching which would fit nicely with Flacco’s plus arm strength, while Weddle was for a time one of the best safeties in football and Watson is coming off a career year in 2015. But none of the three are without legitimate concerns about scheme fit or age. 

The only benefit of finishing so poorly in the regular season is your elevated draft position, a luxury unfamiliar to the Ravens. Picking sixth overall will allow Baltimore to acquire a highly skilled player, at a number of possible positions. Help along the offensive (the loss of Kelechi Osemele could end up being huge) and defensive lines and linebacker corps would be a good place to start.

Expecting a playoff run in 2016 is probably unwarranted. As things stand right now, Baltimore is the third-best team in their division, behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Untested players on both sides of the ball must develop in a hurry if the Ravens plan on topping mediocre expectations.