With new weapons, Ravens looking like NFL's 'breakout offense'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For a franchise known for its dominating defense, the Baltimore Ravens' offense has been generating plenty of buzz this summer.

No longer bothered by injuries, Joe Flacco has been the NFL's most effective quarterback of the preseason. Baltimore's three new free-agent additions at wide receiver -- Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead -- have each taken turns making big plays downfield.

This offense hasn't looked like the one that ranked No. 27 in the league last season. The new confidence and new weapons have led to new expectations.

"This is the football team that I think is going to be the breakout offense of the season," ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said after the Ravens' third preseason game. "They've got weapons on that side of the ball."

How realistic is this? In each of the previous five seasons, at least one team has gone from being one of the six worst offenses into the top 10. Last season, the Los Angeles Rams broke out, going from the worst-ranked offense in 2016 to No. 10 in 2017.

Baltimore has been trending upward all summer. A year removed from a herniated disk, Flacco had his best training camp and preseason. He completed 12 of 16 passes (75 percent) for 143 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 141.4 passer rating led the league.

"The only thing that some guys know so far is that we can be explosive and that we can play well," Flacco said. "So, that’s definitely a confidence boost, and it’s a good boost for us as a team going into the regular season."

The Ravens were far from explosive last season. Flacco averaged a career-worst 5.7 yards per attempt, and Baltimore's wide receivers totaled the third-fewest receiving yards, with 1,734. Only the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills had fewer.

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it a point to say the Ravens were going to revamp their wide-receivers group.

Gone: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Campanaro and Breshad Perriman. Enter: Crabtree, a possession receiver from the Raiders; Brown, a deep threat from Arizona; and Snead, a prototypical slot receiver from New Orleans.

The only wide receiver currently on the roster who caught a pass from Flacco last season is Chris Moore, who had 18 receptions.

How comfortable is coach John Harbaugh with the timing of the new-look passing attack?

"We’re going to find out," he said. "We’ve had some practices where we’ve been really, really good -- tremendous even –- and we’ve had other practices where we haven’t been as good. But mostly, I’m very happy with it, I’m looking forward to seeing how we play in games. I don’t think the first game is the end of the season; it’s the beginning."

The Ravens did finish the 2017 season strong, scoring at least 20 points in nine consecutive games, which is tied for the longest streak in franchise history. But the Ravens fell in the bottom half of the league in offense for the 11th time in the past 16 seasons.

The last time Baltimore ranked in the top 10 in offense was 1997, when Vinny Testaverde was the starting quarterback.

The feeling surrounding this year's Ravens offense is different. Even Baltimore's defense has sensed it.

"It’s nice for a quarterback to know that when the ball is up in the air, you’re not worried about your guy not going up there and competing and making that play," safety Eric Weddle said. "I think Joe has worked extremely hard. He’s been here. He’s worked on his profession. And, knowing that it’s all one-year deals for us, we all have to go play great. He’s done that from the onset. I’m excited for him. I’m excited for this team, the work we’ve put in and what I've seen competing against them for the last four months. It’s exciting, and we just have to go out and execute what we’ve been doing."