Welcome to another edition of our favorite game show, "Issue or Non-Issue," in which we take talking points about the Ravens and decide whether they're important or just blah-blah trumped up by a bored media during the offseason.
Here's how it works: I list the talking point, debate it and decide whether it's a real issue. Ready? OK, let's get started!
There's going to be a leadership void without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk.
This is a popular one with the national talking heads, but I'm not hearing a lot of concern within the organization. On offense, Joe Flacco is more of a leader than anyone thinks; while he isn't a rah-rah guy, he commands with his experience and track record. Ray Rice is also a strong voice. On defense, it's a new era for sure, but there's plenty of leadership. The coaches love Jameel McClain, who will run the huddle if healthy. Terrell Suggs took charge at minicamp last month, and newcomer Elvis Dumervil has the right work ethic and track record.
The Ravens will have to overcome a Super Bowl hangover to get anywhere in 2013.
It's been eight years since a Super Bowl winner won a playoff game the following year, so there is a legitimate basis for concern about what happens to a team after it achieves the ultimate goal. But after an offseason of changes, the Ravens are going to field a team that is decidedly different, with as many as nine new starters, including more than half of the defense. The bulk of the team returns, but the dispatching of so many veterans surely has everyone on their toes, and Head Coach John Harbaugh has been aggressive in framing 2013 as a new team playing a new season.
The passing game could struggle without Anquan Boldin, Flacco's favorite target during the Super Bowl run.
The organization is counting on growth from within to replace Boldin, with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones starting and someone from a group that includes Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson emerging as a No. 3. It's a gamble, as Jones hasn't been a consistent starter and the others haven't caught many balls. The Flacco-to-Dennis Pitta pipeline will help fill in, and Jones certainly can deliver big plays, but an offense needs to consistently scare defenses with multiple receivers, and while the Ravens may achieve that, they need someone to step up.
The team might not be as physically punishing with tough guys Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Vonta Leach and Lewis gone.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees pooh-poohed the thought during an offseason interview, and indeed, no team with Suggs, Marshal Yanda and Haloti Ngata is going to lack for ruggedness. I have no doubt the Ravens will still hit as hard as anyone, but a lot of tone-setting punishment is gone and someone is going to have to provide that.
Bernard Pierce might supplant Rice as the No. 1 back.
Donovan McNabb opened this one up with his recent criticism of Rice for fumbling too much. There's no doubt Pierce is a lot better than the Ravens expected as a third-round pick, and people always fall in love with the new thing, but Rice (who is not a heavy fumbler, by the way, look it up) is just 26, coming off a Pro Bowl season and still the team's best playmaker. I don't see the drama. There's plenty of work for both guys, and having them is one of the team's best attributes.
Joe Flacco might still experience inconsistency even though he was the Super Bowl MVP and signed a huge contract.
It all comes down to expectations. If you think Flacco should be perfect now, you're going to be disappointed. But you're being wildly unrealistic. Flacco isn't going to undergo a crazy transformation. He's going to continue to be what he is, an accomplished veteran who has a big arm, makes a lot more plays than he misses and knows how to win on a team that likes to run the ball as well as throw it. All that matters is he's good enough to take the team all the way. He just did.