5. Outside of keeping some of their own free agents, it appears the Ravens feel their biggest offseason need will be strengthening the middle of their defense.

The biggest challenge the Ravens front office faces this offseason is keeping their own free agents, specifically quarterback Joe Flacco, but when it comes to improving their team heading into the 2013 season, the Ravens didn't go into great detail about the areas that could be emphasized, especially since general manager Ozzie Newsome believes his offensive line can handle the potential departure of two starters. Asked about the team's offseason needs, Newsome said that the Ravens could use another explosive pass rusher and more playmakers at the skill positions on offense -- something every team covets every offseason -- but he also said that the Ravens want to get stronger in the middle on defense. "We think we've got to get better at defensive tackle," Newsome said at the season-ending news conference. "We know that we have one linebacker retiring [in Ray Lewis] and one that's a free agent [in Dannell Ellerbe]. We've got a safety that's a free agent [in Ed Reed] and some young guys that have yet to step up. So we would say the middle of the defense is probably the one area that we will concentrate on." During rough patches on their path to New Orleans, the Ravens struggled to stop the run and were sometimes victimized by tight ends in the passing game. Those issues flared up again in the Super Bowl as the San Francisco 49ers rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries and tight end Vernon Davis led the 49ers with six catches for 104 yards. Lewis has retired and linebacker Jameel McClain is a question mark after suffering a neck injury during the season, so I suspect the Ravens will push to keep Ellerbe (above) and also address the position in the draft. Reed's future is influx, but even if he returns to stalk opposing quarterbacks, the Ravens need to add young depth behind him and Bernard Pollard. And the comment from Newsome about getting better at defensive tackle was particularly damning for nose tackle Terrence Cody -- the 2010 second-round draft pick who has been a huge disappointment -- and veteran Ma'ake Kemoeatu. It sounds like the Ravens may look to the draft for a new long-term answer. The Ravens defense made critical plays whenever they were needed during the team's championship run, especially when the Lombardi Trophy was on the line in the final minutes of the Super Bowl. But they allowed a lot of yards during the regular season, especially in the ground game, something that can't sit well with an organization that prides itself on being physical in the trenches. That is why that it would make sense that after they take care of their key free agents like Flacco and Reed and maybe Ellerbe, they turn their attention to the middle of that defense when trying to get better for next season.
Harry How, Getty Images
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