I've read and heard it suggested that the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl win offered the Ravens a template for how to get back to playing winning football, i.e., with an aggressive defense that dominates and a solid offense that does just enough.
It's a natural thought, almost inevitable. The style that worked for Denver certainly is familiar in Baltimore, having led the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in January 2001.
The 2000 Ravens and 2015 Broncos both reached pro football's pinnacle with a top-ranked defense and middle-of-the-pack offense, and in Baltimore's case, the triumph established a distinct franchise prototype that has lasted for years. I'm sure some fans around the country still think only of defense when they think of the Ravens.
But that's not the template the Ravens used when they won their second Super Bowl three years ago, and frankly, it's not going to be their template for success going forward – not exactly, anyway.
When the Ravens went all the way a second time, their defensive stalwarts were aging and their signature unit was ranked No. 17 in the league. It still made plays, and of course, saved the Super Bowl with a late goal-line stand, but the offense, led by Joe Flacco, did the heaviest lifting. Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes without an interception in four playoff wins.
Flacco is still the Ravens' quarterback. In fact, although he is coming off a knee injury, he just turned 31 and is in his prime.
These days, the presence of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback under center is THE defining characteristic of the Ravens.
Although it remains to be seen how they follow up their disappointing 2015 season, their prospects would be far different, darker, if Flacco weren't around. He offers stability where they need it most – where ANY team needs it most – and significantly improves their chances of bouncing back into the playoff picture.
If they're going to get back to winning, Flacco will lead them.
That doesn't mean the Ravens shouldn't focus on ramping up their defense, which had a decent year statistically in 2015 but took a lot of punches and tended to struggle against top competition. I'm on record supporting the idea of them taking a pass rusher with their top draft pick, the No. 6 overall selection. And if that doesn't work out, I'd like to see them take a cornerback.
One way or another, they need to address the defense, which was short on playmaking in 2015. Although nose tackle Brandon Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith give the unit a solid foundation, the Ravens' highest draft pick since 2000 offers a great opportunity to add an explosive difference-maker.
I'm not sure it's fair to hold up Denver's defense as the prototype for where the Ravens should want to go. Duh. Who wouldn't want a defense like that? But they're rare.
A more realistic winning scenario for the Ravens going forward involves their defense tightening up, at least forcing more turnovers, and their offense taking advantage of the talents of a quarterback who has already shown he can take a team deep into January.
For some reason, before and after the Super Bowl, I've been thinking about the NFL's expansion derby of 1993 and how it all played out.
If you recall, the league awarded new franchises to Carolina and Jacksonville, bypassing Baltimore, St. Louis and Memphis. Within two years, Baltimore and St. Louis also had teams, having lured existing franchises with the stadium packages the league turned down. So every derby finalist except Memphis had a team.
Two decades later, only one city has both a Super Bowl trophy and its team still in place – Baltimore.
St. Louis also won a Super Bowl, in January 2000, but the Rams faded quickly from that high and have announced they're moving to Los Angeles. Carolina has established itself as a solid NFL market and the Panthers have played in two Super Bowls, but lost both; favored to beat Denver last Sunday, they took a beating. Jacksonville's Jaguars have struggled.
According to Forbes magazine, the Ravens are worth at least $370 million more than any of those other teams, a testament to their business success. (The Rams are going to be worth more in Los Angeles.) And with two Super Bowl wins, they've set an on-field standard the others can't match.
Who won the derby? Case closed.