I returned to Baltimore today after a 5 day vacation in the Bahamas that caused me to miss my first Ravens home game since 2002. It seems I picked a good one to not attend and judging by what I’ve read on the WNST blogs and in the newspapers there is a great deal of emotion being displayed by the fans and the media.
The good news is that people are still very passionate about this football team (unlike the local baseball team where not many people care anymore). The bad news is that there will be no playoffs this season. I have heard and read numerous people saying that Brian Billick could/should be fired now or at the end of the season. While I don’t think Billick has done a very good job coaching this year I do think it is rather knee-jerk and a little bit crazy to suggest he should be fired. I particularly found Rick Maese’s column in the Sun today to be very non-analytical and more like something one would read in a tabloid. There was little logic to it and it seemed all Rick wanted to say was “Dead Coach Talking.” But that is the lack of analysis and terrible journalism that I come to expect these days from that horrendous newspaper.
Let’s be honest, why would Steve Bisciotti suddenly decide to fire Brian Billick after he gave him a four year contract extension after last season? That extension came on the heels of the complete evaluation he and Ozzie Newsome did on Billick after the 2005 season. Firing Billick would make Bisciotti look more like Dan Snyder than a competent owner. Billick is a proven winner and went 13-3 last year. This season has not gone well but there have been several factors besides coaching that have the Ravens at 4-5. Injuries are the primary reason but the Ravens have done a lousy job adjusting to them and some of the things they did organizationally in the off-season set them up to not be able to react well when the rash of injuries hit (particularly on the o-line, but more on that later).
Now having read all I could on the Ravens today and using my experience with pro-sports franchises and management in general I am going to offer questions, in no particular order, that I think Steve Bisciotti should be asking his organization in the upcoming weeks and months. Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, and Brian Billick always like to talk about the process they have as an organization so I think it is important that all three of them stick to that while working through the remainder of this season and the upcoming off-season. And Steve should definitely be focused not only on Brian Billick but on Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens scouting department, and the rest of the Ravens staff because as much as it is easy to try and put this 4-5 season all on one man there are many people (other than the players themselves) who share blame in this quickly unraveling season.
- How could the Ravens organization have missed the boat so badly on the decision they collectively made on how to deal with Jonathan Ogden’s foot injury? Hindsight is always 20/20 but clearly Ogden should have had surgery immediately after the season. Had he done so then he likely would have been able to go in training camp and one can make an argument that Ogden’s foot injury is the single biggest reason why this season has gone downhill so quickly. After all, if Ogden is 100% in training camp and the line had played together during the pre-season who is to say that QB Steve McNair doesn’t get hurt in the opening game? Did the Ravens let Ogden have too much leeway in his retirement decision? Perhaps they should have put more pressure on JO to make an earlier decision? Did Bill Tessendorf or the Ravens doctors miss on the diagnosis? The offensive line is so important in football and the Ravens have not had one this year. Left tackle is the most important position and Ogden’s injury has forced the Ravens to play at a serious disadvantage all season. If I could have one play back from last year it would be the one from the Cleveland game at home where JO injured his foot on the goal line.
- Knowing what they did about Ogden’s injury, was the decision to let Tony Pashos go a good one? With Ogden hurt and Pashos off for big money in Jacksonville the Ravens have been forced to go with two new tackles this year. That is a recipe for big trouble in the NFL, especially when the backups are rookies. I am happy the Ravens finally decided to start drafting young offensive lineman in the early rounds the last three years but clearly the years of neglect in the draft caught up to them when Ogden went down and Pashos left for free agency. The future does look bright on the offensive line once these young guys get more playing time together.
- Should the Ravens continue to give big dollars to big name players who are in the latter stages of their career? This is a tough one but the Ravens have given big money to McNair, Trevor Pryce, Samari Rolle, Mike Anderson, and Derrick Mason over the last several years. Is this a good strategy given that those types of players eat up lots of cap room and are likely more injury prone? Pryce and McNair had a great year last year but have been hurt this year. Mason seems to have been a good signing.
- Why have high draft picks like DT Dwan Edwards and CB David Pittman taken so long to develop? It is nice to see Edwards finally contributing this year but given the injuries to Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle the Ravens needed Pittman to be further along than where he is right now. Speaking of high draft picks, the Ravens really needed Yamon Figurs to be returning kicks once BJ Sams went down for the season. Why has he regressed so much after looking so good early on?
- How did the Ravens let Steve McNair’s initial groin injury turn into one that looks to have ended McNair’s season and possibly his career? Did Bill Tessendorf and his staff miss the diagnosis? Did McNair rush himself back? Did someone on the staff underestimate the damage the groin injury would cause to his throwing mechanics? Clearly McNair should not have played the Arizona game, especially given the success Kyle Boller has at home.
- Why do the Ravens play so poorly in the rain? Do they not practice enough in it? Off the top of my head I came up with the following games the Ravens have played in the rain and they haven’t won any of them:
- Miami 2000 (lost 19-6)
- New England 2004 (lost 24-3)
- Chicago 2005 (lost 10-6)
- Cincinnati 2005 (lost 42-29)
- Denver 2006 (lost 13-3)
- Cincinnati 2006 (lost 13-7)
- Cincinnati 2007 (lost 27-20)
- Pittsburgh 2007 (lost 38-7)
- They probably won a game or two in the rain but if so I can’t readily remember it. The team plays well in cold weather but rain seems to be their nemesis.
- Why does the offense continue to struggle so badly year after year? I thought after the strides the offense made in the second half of the season last year things would be different this year with McNair having a whole off-season to work with Billick but it has not happened. Injuries have played a role but this offense continues to regress. Why does the system seem to need to have everyone healthy and perfectly in place for it to work? Injuries do cause players to have bad games, even Peyton Manning threw 6 INTs the other night with a patchwork offensive line and really only Reggie Wayne to throw to, but how long can we blame the lack of production on personnel and injuries? Is it time to come up with a new offensive system or offensive evaluation process?
- Why can’t the Ravens find a franchise QB? In fairness, this is a question at least 20 teams in the NFL are asking themselves daily, monthly, and yearly. I mean after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning there is a significant drop-off in QB play around the league. Some teams other than New England and Indy seem to have this solved such as the Cowboys and Steelers but both of them had some luck in finding their guy. Tony Romo was an undrafted FA and the Steelers lucked out that the Giants and Chargers took Eli Manning and Philip Rivers ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. Granted Big Ben did have a very bad year last season but that was likely caused by his health issues. How did the Ravens let Derek Anderson slip out of their hands so easily, especially with Phil Savage GM’ing the Browns and knowing so much about him?
Clearly there are a lot of questions and analysis that needs to be done out at 1 Winning Drive so these next couple of months will be critical for Bisciotti. Bisciotti is well-liked around town because of his commitment to winning and his knack for being a smart businessman. Smart businessmen don’t make emotional and knee jerk reactions so I don’t expect that to happen in this case. However, it is very important that our football owner address some of these potentially systemic issues if the Ravens are to move back into elite status in the NFL.