Anyone who has followed my on-air ramblings or blogging efforts over the years will attest to the fact that I’m not the knee-jerk “fire the coach” guy when something goes wrong in a season.
The Ravens went 8-8 in 2013 for a variety of reasons, many of which are connected more to player performance than anything a coach or coaches did or didn’t do.
In fact, I can think of five players right off the top of my head that deserve to be fired based on their production in 2013, but their contract status and league salary cap rules make that fundamentally unwise.
As we begin the inevitable discourse on what went wrong with the defending champions, let’s remember from the start they lost twelve key performers from the team that beat the 49’ers in last February’s Super Bowl. Twelve. That’s a lot of quality to lose in one fell swoop, even if several of them were getting long in the tooth and dreaming of greener pastures.
It’s a quarterback’s league and the guy behind center in Baltimore threw 22 interceptions in sixteen games. That’s not going to cut it. I wrote my Joe Flacco piece last week. You can read it here. I’m certainly not saying he was the reason why the team failed to make the playoffs in 2013. But, I also know he was much closer to being the reason why they missed it than he was the reason why they almost made it. His stock took a hit in ’13.
The team’s offensive line was dismal most of the season. The running game was a dud. One of the team’s top receiving threats broke his hip in the first padded practice of training camp.
The Ravens’ defense wasn’t terrible — and in some cases, they were really good — but they gave up a lot of yardage in big chunks and were less than reliable in the 4th quarter throughout the sixteen week regular season.
Make no mistake about it, though. This 2013 season will go down as the one when the Ravens offense completely fizzled.
Now, settle in for my idea of how to fix it.
The Ravens need to make a change at Offensive Coordinator. Yes, a firing of a coach.
It’s not completely “that simple”, of course, because Joe Flacco needs to play better, Marshal Yanda needs to play better, Ray Rice needs to play better, Torrey Smith needs to play better and so on and so on.
What we just saw, though, for sixteen weeks, was about as boring, pedestrian and unimaginative as it could possibly get from a team in the best football league in the world.
The coaches and minds behind the scenes in the NFL are supposed to be the best-of-the-best. The cream of the crop. What the Ravens exhibited on offense in 2013 was far from “cream of the crop” stuff. It was dreadful.
And, because you can’t fire all the players and start over next August, the guy who runs the offense has to go. Along with a lot of others who have had their fingerprints on the offensive blueprint in Baltimore over the last couple of years.
The Bengals used that Andy-Dalton-fake-to-the-running-back-quarterback-keeper play to absolute perfection three times during Sunday’s 34-17 win over Baltimore. The Ravens didn’t use a play like that once the entire season.
Before you tell me Flacco is Flacco and no one can come in and teach him anything, let me remind you what just transpired in Pittsburgh this season. Todd Haley showed up in 2012 as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, took a year to figure out what changes he thought they needed, then spent nearly four months this past off-season convincing Ben Roethlisberger he needed to shave a second or two off his snap-to-throw time in order to get the ball out more quickly and avoid taking the kind of punishment he’s known to take while running around with the ball in his hand.
Roethlisberger gave in, took to the new philosophy, and had one of his best seasons ever in 2013.
The Ravens need that sort of interjection in their offense.
They need someone to come in and say, “This needs an overhaul and I’m just the mechanic to do it.”
The quarterback might get offended at hearing that. The running back might not like hearing it, either. Hell, the head coach might not even be all that thrilled to hear it.
That said, it’s the truth.
The Ravens need a completely new offensive structure. They need better players, for starters, particularly on the offensive line. There’s no question about that. None at all. They can either add better players and improve or do what the Orioles do every off-season and add scrubs and/or no one and lose.
But, once they add those players, they need a new voice running the offense.
Jim Caldwell had sixteen games to convince everyone he’s the man for the job, long-term. Unless I’m really off-base here, I don’t think he did anything to prove he should be the team’s offensive coordinator next season.
The quarterback might not like that, but, like Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco will need to come to grips with the fact that he still has room to improve his game despite owning a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy.
Privately this past season, some Ravens officials were concerned with Flacco’s attitude, particularly as it related to his public comments about the wildcat offense and the insertion of Tyrod Taylor for a handful of plays against the Jets in November.
While he’s not a malcontent by any means, Flacco can also be set in his ways to the point that he becomes unwilling to consider other options that could benefit the team.
With a new offensive coordinator in town – especially one who shows up and says, “I’m here to make Flacco better” – the stage would be set for a showdown of sorts between the quarterback who signed a $120 million contract last spring and the new voice who says, “Yeah, and then you went 8-8 after that…let’s get back to work and make you really good again.”
Rob Chudzinski was a name the Ravens talked about back in 2008 when they started evaluating head coach candidates and they thought of him mainly because of his offensive acumen. He’s expected to be fired as the Browns’ head coach after just one season as their head honcho. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens renew their interest in him if, in fact, a change is made with Jim Caldwell.
If Jim Schwartz gets fired in Detroit, Lions’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan might be looking for a new gig. He’s had the luxury of coaching one of the game’s most dynamic weapons in Calvin Johnson, but Linehan is a respected offensive mind throughout the NFL.
I’m not campaigning for either of those men and I haven’t seen someone at Owings Mills creating a “reserved parking spot” sign for either of them. But, let’s just say I didn’t pick those two names out of a hat, either.
There are lots of other names to consider, of course, and the Ravens are known as one of the best “hiring organizations” in the NFL.
And, for all I know, they’re going to keep Jim Caldwell on board.
After what I saw for sixteen weeks this season, I don’t know how they can possibly do that, but I also know coaches around the league are hesitant to make huge changes in their coaching staff unless something really goes terribly wrong.
Well…2013 came and went for the Ravens and, offensively, it went “terribly wrong”.
Time for a change.
Let’s get back to work.