A Call to Harbs: Your Chance to Fix the Ravens

November 10, 2009 | Luke Jones

The sheer volume of opining, panicking, and lamenting jamming the airwaves, flooding inboxes, and littering message boards since 4:30 p.m. on Sunday has been impossible to escape if you’re a Ravens fan.

And it’s understandable with Sunday’s game clearly being one of the Ravens’ worst performances in recent memory.

Of course, the venting is part of the cathartic process of being a fan after a loss, but it ultimately does nothing to address the problem—or problems—and leaves you feeling helpless in the Ravens’ plight with a 4-4 record and two games behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Ultimately, “it is what it is” for us observers.

In reality, the frustration and second-guessing displayed by us all is falling on deaf ears, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Who hasn’t made a bold proclamation—or several hundred—to their buddies but later felt relief that no one was really listening?

After all, I was convinced Peyton Manning would be the next Heath Shuler while Ryan Leaf would be the next John Elway, and we all know how that turned out.

Peyton Manning

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMe0Rz1frdE&feature=PlayList&p=C6E7EEFE0DCA91CA&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=25[/youtube]

So now that we’ve acknowledged our limitations and past gaffes in evaluating the NFL and its players, this is your chance to prove yourself once and for all.

The phone rings, and John Harbaugh is on the line asking for your astute opinion on the state of the Ravens. He doesn’t have time for personal attacks or whining; Harbaugh is looking for answers.

He’s willing to take three REALISTIC suggestions and implement them beginning in Cleveland on Monday night.

And the key word is REALISTIC.

Larry Bird and Kevin McHale are not—wait a second, wrong rant—Chris McAlister and Michael McCrary are not walking through that door. And if they did, their knees would be completely shot.

Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard say hello to the Charm City, but they’re perfectly content with Rex Ryan in the Big Apple. And the former defensive coordinator sends his regards, but his hands are too full with a rookie quarterback and the New York media to worry about the Ravens’ defensive woes.

Those Jets have long since taken off and aren’t coming back.

And like most of your kids’ Halloween candy, the deadline is long gone, so please spare us the trade proposals.

No matter how great they sound.

I don’t want to hear about officiating conspiracies either. It’s a defeatist attitude, and you’ll hear the same complaints in 31 other NFL cities. Well, maybe not Pittsburgh.

Steelers referees

Lastly, the Colts are more likely to return to Baltimore than Matt Stover is to play for the Ravens—at least until Adam Vinatieri returns from injury in a few weeks (How’d you like that middle-of-the-road remark? And no, I don’t think it will happen anyway).

So now that I’ve squashed 75 percent of the irrational suggestions running through our frustrated minds over the past 48 hours, you have THREE suggestions to offer to Harbaugh for the rest of the season.

And remember, Baltimore is counting on you.

No pressure, right?

I’ll go first.

1. A Nightmare on Russell Street

Yes, I know Paul Kruger does not play special teams.

I fully understand.

Harbaugh wants his reserves to be versatile, and it’s the perfect rationale when a team does not have any glaring deficiencies. However, the defense has struggled to pressure the quarterback from its base front, and Greg Mattison is reluctant to blitz due to a weak secondary—another issue entirely.

It’s clear Kruger is too small to take every snap as a defensive end in a 3-4 alignment and does not have the skill set to play as a stand-up linebacker at this point.

But this is the same player Jon Gruden described as playing like “Freddy Kruger” on draft day last spring.

Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens’ esteemed scouting department used a second-round selection on the defensive end from Utah, so it’s difficult to believe he cannot contribute to the pass rush in some form.

And don’t tell me it would be catastrophic to the team’s flexibility on special teams and other areas. This is the same team that carried two kickers on its roster for years. It’s not as though Danny Kight, J.R. Jenkins, or Wade Richey were contributing in more than one area during their days in Baltimore.

If we look at this from a different perspective, how many special teams players are consistently on the active 45-man roster on Sundays and fail to make any impact on offense or defense?  David Tyree, Prescott Burgess, and Demetrius Williams immediately come to mind.

In other words, there HAS to be a place for Kruger on a defense needing more pressure on the quarterback.

If even the threat of Kruger diverts a little attention away from a Terrell Suggs or a Trevor Pryce, it’s well worth it.

Let’s find out if the rookie can play.

2. Lost in Westminster

Speaking of Demetrius Williams, yes, he is still on the 53-man roster despite rumors of his abduction in Westminster back in August.

After a promising rookie season and two injury-riddled seasons in 2007 and 2008, Williams entered training camp as the team’s No. 3 receiver. Following the emergence of Kelley Washington and a nagging hamstring and knee that slowed him during the summer, the 6-foot-2 receiver has completely disappeared in Cam Cameron’s offense with the lone exception of a 17-yard catch in Minnesota.

But it became apparent during Sunday’s loss that Williams needs to have a presence in this offense.  With Joe Flacco trying to throw deep jump-balls to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, wouldn’t it make more sense to send Williams (the only receiver with both size and speed on the roster) on one or two of those patterns?

Yes, a stiff breeze is as likely to injure the wideout as a strong safety, but keeping him healthy on the sideline serves no purpose to this football team either.

Williams is and should be the No. 4 receiver on the roster, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an option in the passing game, at the very least providing a bigger target in the vertical passing game.

If the coaching staff has no confidence in Williams, he should either be inactive every week (opening the door for Kruger) or off the roster entirely.

3. Waiting on Willis

Remember when Willis McGahee led the NFL in touchdowns after the first three weeks of the season with six?

It seems like an eternity ago.

It was clear Ray Rice had supplanted McGahee as the starting tailback heading into the season, but the veteran was entering the season healthy and revitalized after a rocky relationship with Harbaugh in 2008. McGahee was still figuring to be a major part of the running game.

Since carrying the ball 25 times in the first two weeks, McGahee has received 22 carries in the six games since. Unacceptable.

Rice is clearly having a tremendous season, but is it really what’s best for the team?

In the same way that Flacco could lead the league in passing yards if he threw on every down, is Rice producing such a large portion of the yards and being the only force in the backfield what’s best for the Ravens’ offense presently and moving forward?

With Rice putting up 732 total yards in the last five games, I’ll remind you that the Ravens are 1-4 during that stretch.

McGahee’s return to the game plan would serve two purpose for the Baltimore offense.

First, it would provide the Ravens with a legitimate threat to run between the tackles, something Rice does not provide. The 5-foot-8 back is more effective running from spread-out formations and getting into open space.

Two, it would improve the likelihood of Rice’s smaller frame holding up for the entire 16-game schedule. Though Rice carried the ball 380 times for Rutgers in 2007, that same durability cannot be guaranteed at the pro level. When you have another legitimate option at tailback, why take the risk in finding out?

McGahee needs to be more involved. No excuses.

***

If you’re sitting there thinking I didn’t address the secondary, kicker, or coaching questions, you’re absolutely right.

To be perfectly honestly, I’m not sure how to address the secondary at this point.

Do you blitz more, leaving your defense more susceptible to the big play, or play with more help in pass coverage, hoping for your front four to reach the quarterback eventually? Is rookie Lardarius Webb a better option than Fabian Washington?

As for the kicking job, would Mike Nugent or Billy Cundiff really be any better than Steve Hauschka?

Is Mattison in over his head, or is the talent holding this defense back?

All are questions for which I don’t have a definitive answer.

Remember, you only get THREE realistic suggestions.

Maybe that isn’t enough to fix the Ravens, but that’s all you’re getting.

Make them count.

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