There are panic buttons being pushed all over Baltimore this morning. I can’t say I blame those who have thrown in the towel on this 2012 Ravens team as they continue to regress during the time of the season when you should be playing your best football. Sure, things don’t look so great in charm city after two heartbreaking losses against the team’s two biggest rivals and a beat down by arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game. But, its times like these where every fan needs a decent dose of perspective to help them cope with what appears to be a negative prognosis for this year’s squad.
As bad as this Ravens team looked yesterday, they still clinched a playoff spot for the fifth year in a row, a fete no other team in the NFL has accomplished. As banged up as this team has been this year, they still have a great chance at winning their division for the second consecutive year. As painfully poor as the offense has performed over the past several weeks, they are still in a better position than most of the teams in the NFL, and I am certain Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers would gladly switch places with the Ravens.
That’s right folks. The team who supposedly has the superior coach, the number one ranked defense, a hall of fame quarterback and superior talent is 7-7 and on the outside looking in. Those Steelers are looking up at a Ravens team that has had to play most of the season without defensive starters Lardarius Webb, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jimmy Smith and Pernell McPhee. They have had to deal with nagging injuries to Bernard Pollard and Haloti Ngata. Add those injuries to the mess on the offensive side of the ball and you would assume this team would have three or four wins. But they have won 9 games. Regardless of what many people think, they HAVE earned a spot in the playoffs by having a better season than twelve other teams in the AFC. For every win you think is a fluke, I can point to 3 losses that could have easily been Ravens wins. Sometimes the ball bounces your way. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is the NFL, and the object of the game is to win games and to make the playoffs which no other franchise has done better that the Baltimore Ravens over the past five years. This season has certainly been a struggle, but when your bad seasons result in at least 9 wins, a potential division title and a trip to the playoffs, life is pretty good. Now, that I’ve put my positive spin on this season, let’s take a look at what went wrong against the Broncos.
Flacco’s momentum killers
For those of you who read this blog, you know that I am a fan of Number 5. Not because I think he is elite (he’s not), but because I believe he is plenty good enough to get this team to the Super Bowl even without an elite defense (he proved that last year). But Joe Flacco must find a way to not make the game changing, momentum killing mistakes that he made yesterday. The fumble on the quarterback sneak on first series was brutal. With the crowd ready to burst after a fantastic start by the Ravens defense, Flacco and the offense really had an opportunity to set the tone. With great field position and a very manageable third and one situation, Flacco fumbled the quarterback sneak. (By the way, I loved that call.) With that fumble, the air just got sucked out of the offense and the stadium. As if that one mistake wasn’t enough, the uncharacteristic red zone interception at the end of the first half was the nail in the coffin. Despite popular opinion, I don’t think the Ravens should have called time out in that situation because it seemed as if they had the Broncos on their heels. I didn’t want to give the Broncos defense a chance to catch their breath and get set, so I liked the no huddle shot. What I didn’t like was the decision by Flacco to try to squeeze a pass to Anquan Boldin who had run a pretty lazy route as well. That was a terrible decision, and it was the 14-point swing that cost the Ravens the game. You simply can’t make that mistake when you are down ten points with a golden opportunity to cut the lead to three knowing you get the ball to open the second half. Those mistakes cost you games. Ironically Ben Roethlisberger made a very similar mistake in Dallas that may keep the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Flacco making Ravens decision difficult
With every subpar performance, the Ravens future at quarterback becomes increasingly unclear. The clock is running out and a decision will have to be made fairly soon. Do you sign Joe long term? Do you franchise him for another year to see what can be done with a legitimate offensive system in place and reliable offensive line? Or do you let him walk and enter the quarterback market again? Before you angrily put Flacco on the chopping block, let me refresh your memory of the recent first round quarterback selections. Since Joe Flacco was drafted 18th by the Ravens in 2008, twelve quarterbacks have been selected in the first round. Those quarterbacks were: Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford,Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, RGIII and Andrew Luck. I’ll admit that I would love to have those once in a lifetime prospects like Andrew Luck or RGIII. I’ll even say Cam Newton would be fun. But the other nine quarterbacks simply aren’t better than Joe Flacco. They just aren’t. Unless the Ravens completely tank one season and get a top five pick, they will never have the opportunity to get a player of Luck or RGII’s ability. It just isn’t going to happen. If you are going to let Flacco go, you better get somebody who is better. Maybe they call Washington and try to trade for Kirk Cousins and hope that he can be better than Joe. But that would be a risky move as well. I can tell you that if Joe Flacco isn’t a starter for the Ravens next season, he will be the starter for the Chiefs, Jets, Cardinals, Vikings, Eagles or Jags. Quarterbacks with big arms who win games aren’t easy to find. Flacco is not a quarterback who can make plays when everything around him breaks down. I believe he is a system quarterback who can be a pro bowl caliber quarterback if he has the supporting pieces around him. But he does need a legitimate system with legitimate passing routes and a legitimate offensive line. He simply has too many flaws to overcome lackluster line play,average receivers, and bad schemes. Joe is a great compliment to Ray Rice, not the other way around. It has been proven each of the past five years that you can win with Joe Flacco. But I wouldn’t expect him to put a team on his shoulders when things are going badly.
Offensive Line Disaster
For starters, there isn’t one starting offensive lineman from yesterdays’ game that should have been playing in the position where he now plays. Michael Oher is simply not a left tackle. He belongs at right tackle. Jah Reid should not be on the roster at all. He is terrible and a draft pick bust. Matt Birk is WAY past his prime and is no longer a viable NFL starting center. Bobbie Williams is no longer an NFL caliber guard and has no business being on the field. Kaleche Osemele is in no way, shape or form a right tackle in the NFL. The Ravens currently only have two lineman who should be starting in this league and both of them are out of position. It’s time for McKinnie to start at left tackle which would move Oher back to right tackle and allow Osemele to dominate at left guard. If Yanda can make it back soon, the Ravens would at least have three decent lineman on the field, which sadly is an upgrade over what is currently being trotted out on the field on Sundays. It’s time for McKinnie to exit the dog house.
Time to cut ties with Reed and Boldin
I’m a huge Ed Reed fan. He is sure fire Hall of Fame safety who has brought many magical moments to the city of Baltimore. But, it’s time to move on. Reed finds himself out of position every Sunday, allowing touchdown after touchdown to be thrown on his watch. Several times this year our cornerbacks have been counting on deep help by Reed, only to notice that #20 had abandoned his responsibility by creeping up towards the backfield looking for the big play. It was comical to hear Reed blame “Flu Like Symptoms” for being posterized by Knowshown Moreno yesterday. I guess that’s better than admitting that you have become a defensive liability. I love you Ed Reed. I still have your jersey, but it’s time to move on and wait for to the day that you enter the Ravens Ring of Honor.
Anquan Boldin’s time in Baltimore is also coming to an end. Boldin is a solid football player who has brought some much needed toughness to the offense. But his inability to create any type of separation and consistently make plays isn’t helping this offense and its progress. Boldin is a number three receiver, number two at best in this league and that is a role easily be filled by Tandon Doss next year. Boldin’s bush league unsportsmanlike penalty yesterday was disappointing and that behavior just cannot be tolerated. Thanks for your time ”Q,” but it’s time for the Ravens to get younger and faster at your position. While Flacco has been bad the past few weeks, his receivers do not get open and provide him a clear window to deliver the ball. As I mentioned before, Joe needs the pieces around him to be successful. Most quarterbacks who aren’t going to the Hall of Fame need the same help.
The head football coach has had a tough few weeks. He has made two horrific challenges costing his team crucial timeouts, failed to throw the challenge flag soon enough which could have saved his team three points, failed to attempt a two point conversion in the fourth quarter which could have made it a two possession game, failed to instill the proper discipline this team appears to need, and failed to right the ship after firing his offensive coordinator. But as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” This is where a head coach earns his money. It is Harbaugh’s job to push the right buttons and to get his house in order. He has to get this team’s pride and swagger back before the playoffs start. He knows that the return of Lewis, Ellerbe, Pollard and Yanda will provide a major boost. But he has to right the ship now. He needs to sit down Terrell Suggs if he’s not going to give 100% effort due to his injuries. He has to have the offensive coaches working overtime to get this offense back on track. He has to lead and that means running a tight, organized ship the rest of the way. That means showing up at Flacco’s house and pounding it into his brain that this too is his time to lead this team. That means taking McKinnie out of the doghouse so the offensive line has a chance to succeed. The time is now. Win this week and you can make the finale against the Bengals a bye week. Falter this week, and the Ravens will have to win in Cincinnati in week 17 to win the division. It’s Harbaugh’s time to shine, and my gut tells me that he will do just that.