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Can Martindale take Ravens defense to another level?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is no stranger to feeling pressure.

Try having one of the best defensive minds in NFL history looking over your shoulder while coaching in an NCAA Division-IAA playoff game. Having worked with both Rex and Rob Ryan, Martindale called their father, the late Buddy Ryan, a “big influence” on his coaching career on Thursday. The two-time Super Bowl champion assistant and former NFL head coach spent his later years in the state of Kentucky where Martindale made his final collegiate coaching stop.

“I called a game at Western Kentucky, and he was standing next to me on the sideline at a playoff game,” said Martindale, who worked for former Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh from 2001-02 and finished his stint there a year later. “You want to talk about pressure? That was a little bit of pressure — not blitzing when he wanted to blitz.”

With the Ravens coming off a second straight season in which the defense’s failure to get a late stop left them short of the playoffs, the former linebackers coach steps into a role surrounded by high expectations. And with most of the offseason focus expected to be on the other side of the ball — though we’ve made that incorrect assumption in the past — Martindale will be asked to reach another level with a defense that’s received a plethora of resources in recent years.

Upon being promoted last week, the 54-year-old received congratulatory messages from many of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, ranging from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and current 16th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Martindale also received strong endorsements from other current players such as Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, showing he has plenty of support in the locker room despite not being a sexy choice for fans who were intrigued by the possibility of Chuck Pagano returning to Baltimore.

This will be Martindale’s second stint as an NFL defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity with Denver in 2010. Having lost All-Pro defensive end Elvis Dumervil to a season-ending pectoral injury that summer, Martindale didn’t have much talent with which to work as the Broncos finished last in the league in total yards and points allowed and head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in December.

“I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out,” said Martindale, who was dismissed at season’s end and hired as Ravens inside linebackers coach a year later. “Not at the time, but eight years later, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys — you either win or you learn.”

Martindale now inherits a talented defense that impressively pitched three shutouts and led the NFL in takeaways this season, but the unit finished sixth in points allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in total yards surrendered and saw its performance slip over the final month when Baltimore blew late leads against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The stunning home loss to the Bengals on New Year’s Eve resulted in John Harbaugh’s team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Ravens are already devoting more cap space to their defense than the other side of the ball and have used 13 of their last 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks on defensive players. In other words, Martindale needs to find more consistency than retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees did with the current group and probably shouldn’t be expecting major additions this offseason.

“We’re close. Obviously, the last two years it has been the last play that’s knocked us out of it,” Martindale said. “We are going to work diligently — all of us — with our package and situational football. That’s going to be the next step I think that’ll skyrocket us. That is the big thing that I see.

“We are going to take our ‘good’ and make it great. We were really good. Let’s make it great.”

With numerous holes on offense and a limited amount of projected salary-cap space for 2018, Martindale could be the X factor for the defense. Of course, some recent draft picks will need to step up in a way similar to how Matthew Judon progressed this past season with Pro Bowl veterans such as Suggs and safety Eric Weddle not getting any younger and high-priced cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon.

But many will be eager to see how Martindale’s fingerprints compare to Pees, who was criticized for too many late-game collapses and not being more aggressive in certain situations. The new defensive coordinator emphasized that success is ultimately about the players and putting them in the right positions to succeed.

Without being disrespectful when asked how he’d compare to his predecessor, Martindale made his intentions clear.

“I think personality-wise and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same,” Martindale said. “And then there’s going to be some times where I’m going to pressure more. I think I have a more aggressive personality in calling a game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past, so there’s that fine line — what quarterback you’re playing and things of that nature.”

Finding that fine line could be the difference for a good defense striving to be great.

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Chapter 2: High Standards, Low Profile of Steve Bisciotti

Posted on 13 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“Steve (Bisciotti) is straightforward and that makes it easy. He’s not a prima donna. He’s direct. He’s upfront. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he tells you. If he feels strongly about something, he tells you. There’s no secret agenda. There’s nothing you have to discover. Steve is a great believer in direct communication and he runs the business that way.”

— Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass (March 2013)

 

IN MANY CITIES IN AMERICA the owners of sports franchises can still somehow stay or hide in the shadow of their local investment and create nary a stir when they enter a room. Being anonymous has its privileges and benefits, a thought Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti would certainly echo. But in Baltimore, where the owners of the local professional teams have been true newsmakers and iconoclasts for the better part of a half a century, owning the NFL franchise that a community treats like family or a personal treasure can be like carrying the collective weight of the civic mood on your shoulders.

Bisciotti did his best to remain a private citizen after taking over the Ravens from Arthur B. Modell in early 2004, but you can’t be invested in the most significant sports soap opera in the community and stand at the top of the pyramid making the most important decisions for the fan base without becoming a public figure of the highest order.

If you are a sports fan from Baltimore, Maryland, you have endured your fair share of abuse. In the 1970’s, the Baltimore Bullets were dragged down I-95 to the Washington suburbs by owner Abe Pollin, professional hockey went into hibernation with the Clippers and there were strong whispers of the Orioles going to D.C. to replace the departed Washington Senators. It got no better in the 1980’s. There was always the ominous and omnipresent shadow of Robert Irsay, the man who acquired the Baltimore Colts from Carroll Rosenbloom in a swap for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and later moved them to Indianapolis in a convoy of Mayflower moving trucks in the middle of a snowy, teary night for the Charm City on March 28, 1984 after a decade of tyranny and threats to the community of the inevitable move.

Since the turn of the century, both the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan bases’ have been tormented and tortured by disastrous moves on the field and big moves downward in the standings since the involvement of Daniel Snyder and Peter G. Angelos have fallen upon the I-95 corridor. These two have shined a bright light on what can go wrong when poor decisions are consistently being made from the top of the organization and how quickly decades of support for enduring brands can erode and deteriorate when fans and customers smell the stench of poor ownership.

The reality in the 21st century is that with the scarcity of teams available and the cost of buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars, no one wants to pony up the kind of money to be an owner without having a strong desire to be heavily involved in strategy and a strong desire to win – whether it’s on the field or at the cash register. Many of these thrill seekers have lacked proper training, background and the feel for sports ownership especially with such a public light illuminating every decision that is made in real time on the internet. What sounds like fun in the beginning becomes an albatross and a public nuisance once it becomes apparent how specialized each league, sport and business is from an ownership standpoint.

It was no secret that Art Modell was struggling financially in Cleveland and those ghosts of burgeoning debt followed him east to Baltimore in 1996. By 1999, the NFL and his debtors with the banks demanded that he find a partner to buy the team and help him find the exit door with the class and dignity that his departure from Cleveland clearly lacked.

The same man who found Modell in Cleveland and brokered the deal for the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in the Fall of 1995 was the same man who found a buyer four years later: local attorney and sports franchise expert John Moag. After Modell made the move to Baltimore, Moag became a trusted confidant and had all of the institutional knowledge that would be necessary to assist in finding a new owner for the Baltimore Ravens.

Moag knew Bisciotti and was privy to most of Modell’s financial struggles. The rest is history.

By any account, Steve Bisciotti is a sports nut. He’s long been a fiercely loyal University of Maryland supporter, close confidant of legendary Terps basketball head coach Gary Williams and a Ravens and Orioles season ticket holder at the time. At worst, he would’ve been a very educated sports radio talk show caller before he got involved in the purchase the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.

Bisciotti, born April 10, 1960 in Philadelphia, came to the Severna Park area of Anne Arundel County in 1961 when Bernard and Patricia Bisciotti moved from Philadelphia for Bernard’s new sales executive job. He was 8 years old when the Colts lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets. He was a huge Paul Blair fan during the heyday of the Earl Weaver-led Orioles in his adolescence. He journeyed with his friends up Richie Highway to Memorial Stadium in the 1970’s and loved the Bert Jones-era of the “Shake and Bake” Colts.

Bisciotti’s father died of leukemia when he was in elementary school leaving his sports-crazed widowed mother, who raised him by preaching faith, hard work, determination and manners. Nicknamed “Shots” by his college pals at Salisbury State, where he earned a Liberal Arts degree, Bisciotti became obsessed with making enough money by the age of 35 so that his wife and kids wouldn’t have to work if his father’s fate befell him. He had the early jobs of a kid who worked hard and learned the world: pumping gas, mowing lawns, and building piers in Anne Arundel County, where he graduated from Severna Park High School. He founded a staffing firm called Aerotek in his basement with $3,500 of seed money at age 23 during the Colts final season in Baltimore. He now owns a massive stake in Allegis

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Five years later, the magic of Purple Reign 2 and Ravens Super Bowl title revisited

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Prologue:

Here we go again, Baltimore!

 

 

May 14, 2013

 

When I wrote “Purple Reign: Diary Of A Raven Maniac” in March 2001, it was no less than a small civic miracle that the Baltimore Ravens even existed. Given what our community had been through trying to get back into the NFL after the departure of Bob Irsay and the Mayflower van exodus of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis on that snowy night of March 28, 1984, just having an NFL team was a victory in itself. This is sometimes lost on the younger generation of fans in Baltimore and should never be forgotten.

The ensuing hostage situation involving civic money, stadiums, lawyers, lawsuits, a private-mostly-old-boys-club of NFL owners, and the expansion charade that Paul Tagliabue presided over in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was as big a part of the story for anyone who loves Baltimore, loved the Colts, or was falling in love with the Ravens. As an aside, two decades later the choice of Jacksonville and Charlotte look fairly dubious as NFL hot spots despite the insistence of The Sun King that Baltimore was unworthy and should consider building a museum.

Anyone who is over the age of 40 would tell you that they spent long stretches of their lives from 1984 through 1995 believing that Baltimore would never get an NFL team again. The odds were so slim that I went so far as to say on my radio show in 1993 that I’d run naked down Pratt Street if NFL football ever returned to Charm City. And, yes, you can google my name, “Nasty” and “naked run” to see that I pretty much paid up on the wager in the spring of 1996 after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens. I must warn you – it’s not a pretty sight, me running through rush hour traffic in tighty-whiteys taking $10 bills from cabbies who wanted to donate to the charity run.

I declared it a civic miracle that Baltimore got a team – and it really was. To think that all of the political machinations that ended with John Moag, building on the efforts of Herb Belgrad and the fading dream of outgoing governor William Donald Schaefer, succeeded in bringing the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore by offering Arthur B. Modell and his family a bigger, better deal is still the greatest “tipping point” event of my life. I’ll never forget that day and the promise that it brought to my life as a Baltimore sports radio personality and wannabe-entrepreneur.

I had faith. I was purple when purple wasn’t cool.

The Modell family brought football to Baltimore and allowed me to shed every piece of Houston Oilers’ gear I’d ever owned and loved.

The marriage between the Ravens and Baltimore gave my career life, my family the ability to hope, launch, grow and build WNST AM-1570 & WNST.net in 1998. It also landed me a nationally syndicated radio program for three years on Sporting News Radio that included the Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl win. And it’s allowed me to follow my childhood dream to be a sports writer in my hometown in the modern era of social media. I love Baltimore sports as much as you do, and I’ve devoted my life to chronicling it.

You are holding a book that took 100 days to write, but 17 years to research and about 29 years to live. The championship was a gift to me, and I felt a calling to write about it and you’re holding the result.

And this miracle gift of NFL football in Baltimore that was willed to exist by a toxic stew of money, lawyers, lies, covert meetings, politicians, local business, fans, television, and a roomful of really wealthy white men over the past 40 years has given our sports community the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s kinda like sausage: you really don’t want to know how it’s made.

Since 1958, Baltimore has won five NFL titles via the Colts and Ravens and three World Series via the Orioles.

I’m about to enter my 30th year on the Baltimore sports media scene that began in 1984 at The News American, and I’ve never seen a bigger – or better – local sports story than this unlikely Super Bowl run of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis marching the Lombardi Trophy through the streets of downtown amidst 250,000 people near the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards.

Here’s the truth: this book you’re about to read was an absolute labor of love because these stories jumped off the lips of those who gave me access and honesty from inside and outside the Baltimore Ravens organization. There aren’t enough pages in this book to express how grateful I am to have been involved in chronicling all of these Ravens games over the years. For better or worse, it’s defined my life and my career. And this book is the most important project of my career.

And my first question to virtually every person in February and March 2013 in researching this book was: “What were the most important decisions that led to a Super Bowl 47 win?”

I got a myriad of different answers:

 

  • The Ray Lewis last ride inspired the team
  • Joe Flacco emerged and was flawless in the playoffs & Super Bowl
  • Cam Cameron was fired
  • Jim Caldwell took over the play calling
  • Terrell Suggs coming back allowed Paul Kruger to rush the passer
  • Corey Graham could actually play cornerback in the NFL
  • Justin Tucker was a better kicker than Billy Cundiff
  • Anquan Boldin caught big passes down the stretch
  • Having Bryant McKinnie play well at left tackle and moving Michael Oher to right tackle gave Joe Flacco time and confidence to throw
  • Jacoby Jones made big plays all year

 

These are the obvious strategic and emotional issues that led to the team winning in December and January on the field, but there were thousands of decisions made off the field dating all the way back to the day that Ozzie

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Ravens’ playoff absence officially hits three years

Posted on 10 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens squandered two 14-point leads in a playoff loss to New England three years ago Wednesday.

They would soon say goodbye to five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as one of the franchise’s most accomplished wide receivers in Torrey Smith. That was also the final game of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s lone season with the Ravens and with his departure went any semblance of consistent offensive production since then.

More painful than anything else, however, has been the deterioration of the standard. Losing in the divisional round was once the minimum of expectations under John Harbaugh — illustrating how spoiled Baltimore was during the first five years of his tenure — but the Ravens haven’t been back to the postseason since that night in Foxborough when Tom Brady picked apart helpless cornerback Rashaan Melvin and an overwhelmed secondary.

Sure, the Ravens have been close to making the playoffs in each of the last two years, but that’s sometimes the worst place for an organization to be. “Close” doesn’t always mean you’re moving in the right direction, and it can prevent you from making necessary changes when you believe you’re “one play away” from getting over the hump.

The underwhelming performances in the AFC wild-card round this past weekend prompted predictable commentary from some that Joe Flacco and the Ravens would have been a more dangerous team and a bigger threat to New England and Pittsburgh. That old narrative needs to be buried when they don’t even manage to make the tournament anymore. Perhaps Brian Billick’s once-famous ban on using the “playoff” word needs to be reinstated until further notice.

The Ravens haven’t beaten the Patriots since the 2012 AFC Championship, and you can count the relevant players remaining from that Super Bowl team on two hands and have fingers left over. They still play the Steelers tough, but their only win at Heinz Field since the 2014 postseason was a game in which a washed-up Michael Vick was under center for their AFC North rival.

The sobering reality of watching the likes of Buffalo and Tennessee in the playoffs last weekend wasn’t that the Ravens might have been more formidable, but it’s that they’re closer to those mediocre teams in quality than the Patriots and the Steelers. They couldn’t even beat out such wild-card contenders despite having one of the most-favorable schedules in the NFL.

Harbaugh’s team went just 1-5 against teams who finished above .500 this season and is now 7-27 in that department since Super Bowl XLVII. For context, the 2011 team alone won six games against opponents finishing that season with winning records, and the Ravens were 18-20 against squads finishing over .500 from 2008-12.

Even that last playoff team in 2014 was an unimpressive 1-6 against teams finishing with winning records, but those Ravens did go a perfect 9-0 against opponents .500 or worse and swept a terrible NFC South division to ultimately secure a wild card. This year’s team lost home games to Chicago and Cincinnati, who finished a combined 12-20.

The standard that once made losing a playoff game in New England a bitter disappointment has regressed to not being good enough to beat winning teams and dropping a few too many games that they shouldn’t. The latter part is evident from a 33-13 record against teams finishing .500 or worse over the last five years compared to a 36-6 mark over the first five seasons of the Harbaugh era.

It’s resulted in a team that’s still competitive, but not one as close to being a serious contender as the Ravens would like to believe.

Three years ago, that disappointing 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots still felt like the beginning of a new run for Harbaugh and the revamped Ravens after their 2013 absence from the postseason. Instead, it may have simply been the final chapter in the most successful era in franchise history.

The Ravens have a lot of work to do this offseason to both change that perception and resurrect their once-lofty standard.

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Ravens promote linebackers coach Martindale to defensive coordinator

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens followed an old pattern to hire the seventh defensive coordinator in franchise history.

Continuing the organization’s long-held practice of promoting from within, head coach John Harbaugh announced linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale would replace retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees. He is the sixth consecutive Ravens defensive coordinator to be an internal promotion with Marvin Lewis being the only outside hire that arrived for the team’s inaugural 1996 season.

Hired to coach the inside linebackers in 2012 and promoted to linebackers coach in 2016, Martindale is held in very high regard by his players and has helped develop the likes of three-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley and Matthew Judon as well as former undrafted free agents Zachary Orr and Patrick Onwuasor. The 54-year-old was considered the top in-house candidate to replace Pees, but the delay in promoting him lead many to believe he wasn’t the top choice.

“Wink has earned the promotion to defensive coordinator,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “His aggressive mentality will serve to take our defense to new levels. He is obviously respected by players, many of whom have already benefited from his direct coaching at the linebacker position. He knows the ins and outs of what we have been about on defense and has been an important contributor to our success on that side of the ball.”

The announcement was met with a lukewarm response from those fans wanting the organization to bring back Chuck Pagano, who served as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator in 2011 before being hired as the head coach in Indianapolis. The Ravens had been interested in a reunion with Pagano, but he had two years remaining on his contract with the Colts and may ultimately elect to take some time off from coaching after being fired last week.

Martindale served as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2010, but it was a forgettable year as Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil missed the entire season with a pectoral injury and the unit finished last in total yards and points allowed. He was dismissed after that season and hired a year later by Harbaugh.

An internal hire is rarely an exciting one, but Martindale has roots with the Ryan family and coached with former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan at the University of Cincinnati from 1996-97 and with Rob Ryan in Oakland from 2004-08. It’s also worth noting that the popular Pagano was an internal Ravens hire who replaced Greg Mattison, who wasn’t exactly a popular defensive coordinator in the eyes of many Ravens fans.

Harbaugh also named Mike Macdonald to take Martindale’s place as the linebackers coach. The 30-year-old has been with the Ravens since 2014 and served as the defensive backs coach this past season.

“Mike is one of the rising coaching standouts in the NFL, and he has earned the respect in the locker room and in the coaching room,” Harbaugh said. “We’re excited to see what he’ll do when he coaches our linebackers.”

Baltimore promoted Sterling Lucas to the role of defensive quality control after he most recently served as administrative assistant for the defense.

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Ravens keep run-game architect Roman, hire new quarterbacks coach

Posted on 05 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The man who orchestrated a 2017 turnaround for the Ravens running game is staying put.

Senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman has re-signed with Baltimore despite growing concerns that he might depart for an opportunity elsewhere. Head coach John Harbaugh has promoted him to the title of assistant head coach, but Roman will continue his work with the tight ends as well as overseeing the running game.

“I’m thrilled to be back with the people and organization that is the Ravens,” Roman said to the team’s official website. “I enjoy coming to work every day and look forward to building upon what we did this year.”

After finishing 26th in run offense in 2015 and 28th in 2016, the Ravens hired Roman to rediscover the ground productivity that had disappeared since Gary Kubiak’s lone season in 2014. Abandoning their zone-heavy schemes in favor of a more multiple approach under Roman, the Ravens finished 11th in the NFL in rushing yards per game despite being without six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda for most of the year and losing projected starting left guard Alex Lewis for the season during training camp.

Picked up after being cut by Seattle at the end of the preseason, second-year running back Alex Collins flourished in Baltimore, ranking 11th in the NFL with 973 rushing yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

A day after leaving open the possibility of adding a quarterbacks coach, Harbaugh hired James Urban, who had worked in Cincinnati as the wide receivers coach for the last seven years. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg coached the quarterbacks the last three seasons, but Urban will take over those duties and previously served as the quarterbacks coach for Philadelphia from 2009-10 when Mornhinweg was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles. Urban worked with the accomplished Donovan McNabb as well as Michael Vick, who enjoyed a renaissance Pro Bowl season under his tutelage in 2010.

“I want to win football games, do what it takes to win football games, and put people in place to win football games,” Urban said in a statement. “The Ravens are about tough, physical, disciplined football, and those are appealing things to me. Obviously, Marty and I coached together for seven years, and he has guided me in many ways — in terms of what I believe about quarterback play and offensive play. I am really excited to be back with Marty and to go to work.”

The Ravens will hope Urban has a positive impact on Joe Flacco, who is coming off one of the more trying seasons of his 10-year career. His 5.72 yards per attempt average was the worst of his career and ranked last among qualified NFL quarterbacks. Excluding Flacco’s injury-shortened 2015 campaign, his 3,141 passing yards were his lowest total since his rookie year. Flacco did rebound over the final five games of the season, throwing nine touchdowns and posting a 91.4 passer rating while tossing only two interceptions.

Urban began his NFL coaching career with the Eagles in 2003 when Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator under Andy Reid. The 44-year-old remained in that organization until being hired by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in 2011.

“Playing the Bengals twice a year, we’ve seen what a good job James does,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “He’s highly regarded around the league, including by Ozzie [Newsome] and Marty. We were all excited when he became available.”

The Ravens have yet to fill their vacant defensive coordinator position after the retirement of Dean Pees earlier this week, but former Indianapolis head coach and one-time Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale are believed to be the top candidates for the job.

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Ravens, Green Bay providing interesting contrast to start of offseason

Posted on 05 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are again preaching continuity after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but a contemporary with an even better track record over the last decade is proceeding quite differently.

If any team had an excuse for missing the playoffs in 2017, it was probably Green Bay after six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed over half of the season with a broken collarbone. The Packers fared exactly how you’d expect with backup Brett Hundley under center as the Ravens even contributed to that misery with a 23-0 shutout victory at Lambeau Field in Week 11. But that hasn’t stopped Green Bay from making substantial changes after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

In place as the general manager since 2005, Ted Thompson has stepped aside and will now serve in an advisory role. Head coach Mike McCarthy has fired both his offensive and defensive coordinators as well as his defensive line and inside linebackers coaches. The Packers also allowed their quarterbacks coach’s contract to expire after Hundley wasn’t up to the task of filling in for Rodgers.

Of course, every situation is unique and can be driven by factors other than the results on the field, but it’s a substantial shakeup for the Packers, who had been tied with New England for the longest active playoff appearance streak in the NFL at eight consecutive seasons. This is a team coming off an appearance in last year’s NFC Championship, so it’s more than fair to argue this being an overreaction when you lose one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Regardless, it’s an interesting contrast from Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defending offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the rest of his offensive staff by citing quarterback Joe Flacco missing all of training camp with a back injury and starting guards Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda being lost for the season. No one would compare Flacco’s impact to that of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but the Ravens did have their franchise signal-caller available for all 16 games — even at less than 100 percent. And while there’s no understating the Week 2 loss of a six-time Pro Bowl right guard for the remainder of the year, Green Bay also dealt with a number of injuries on its offensive line this season.

One approach isn’t necessarily more correct than the other as time will tell whether these teams who have both won a Super Bowl in the last eight years will get back on track, but the Packers are certainly being aggressive trying to address their 2017 failures after a 7-9 finish while the Ravens have so far only been tasked with replacing their defensive coordinator after Dean Pees’ retirement. The juxtaposition of those two reactions to missing the playoffs will be interesting to monitor in 2018.

Jimmy Smith ready for start of next season?

It’s been just over a month since veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon, leaving his status for the start of the 2018 season up in the air.

In the midst of the best campaign of his career at the time of the injury, Smith missed the final four contests and also served a four-game ban for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. It marked the fifth time in seven years that the 2011 first-round pick played no more than 12 games, making many understandably skeptical that he’ll be ready for Week 1 in September.

“You saw how fast [Terrell Suggs] came back from his,” said Harbaugh, referencing his remarkable 2012 return from an Achilles tear in under six months. “Then, there’s always a building back to your skill set, too, so we understand that. If you do the math, eight months [to recover would] be September for Jimmy. That’s conservative; it’s really a little more than that.

“We’ll see where he’s at. I’m hopeful, but we’ll have a bunch of corners here, too, to make sure that we have enough corners.”

Smith’s injury could open the door for veteran Brandon Carr to remain in Baltimore. The 31-year-old struggled down the stretch, but he has never missed a game in his career and cutting him would leave the youthful trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady atop the depth chart until Smith is ready to return.

Releasing Carr would save $4 million in salary cap space for the 2018 season.

Infirmary report

Harbaugh said he will likely hold Yanda out until training camp, but the 33-year-old will be ready to go before then and is “already moving and doing some things” after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on Sept. 17.

According to the coach, Lewis (shoulder), Young (knee), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) will be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program in April while linebacker Albert McClellan (knee) should be ready to return by the start of training camp. Rookie wide receiver Tim White has been 100 percent for roughly the last six weeks after suffering a serious thumb injury in the first preseason game. Defensive end Brent Urban (foot) will also be ready by the spring, but he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Harbaugh said he hasn’t had any contact with tight end Darren Waller, who was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy in June.

Young backup for Flacco

Harbaugh acknowledged the possibility of the Ravens drafting a young quarterback this spring.

Flacco will turn 33 later this month and has been hampered by knee and back injuries over the last three seasons and sustained a concussion in Week 8. He is under contract through the 2021 season, but the Super Bowl XLVII MVP is coming off one of the more trying seasons of his 10-year career. Backup Ryan Mallett has served as his backup for the last two seasons and struggled this past preseason, leading many to clamor for the Ravens to draft a quarterback with some long-term upside.

“It’s something that we will talking about for sure,” Harbaugh said. “Every position, certain positions are going to be more important than others, but when you have a veteran quarterback at this stage, that is the time you are always looking for a young backup. I don’t think that jeopardizes Joe at all. He is our guy, and I am excited about our chances next year having a great season, and Joe is too.

“If we draft a quarterback, if it turns out to be the thing we do, it is only going to make our team stronger.”

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Ravens still sounding too comfortable until they prove otherwise

Posted on 04 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A few summers ago, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh walked to the interview podium wearing a shirt with an appropriate slogan for a sweltering training camp practice.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Many are wondering if the Ravens are just plain comfortable these days despite having missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Harbaugh’s decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t do anything to debunk that perception. We may never know if the Ravens might have even retained defensive coordinator Dean Pees had he not chosen to retire.

Having just finished his first decade in Baltimore, Harbaugh began Thursday’s press conference not by lamenting his team not being good enough in 2017, but he instead expressed deep pride in his players’ hard work to be the best they could be. That’s a noble sentiment and not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the opening message your fan base wants to hear four days after one of the biggest collapses and worst home losses in team history. This is a results-driven business in which praise for hard work and doing your best rings hollow when you fail in such a crucial situation.

Announcing he was retaining Mornhinweg made it even worse.

“I believe in these coaches. I understand the job that they did this year because I see it close up,” said Harbaugh, who cited the the Ravens being the second-highest scoring team in the NFL after their bye week. “I think our offense made a heck of a lot of progress, especially considering the adversity that we faced and the challenges we were up against this year. That’s why we are rolling.”

Of course, the passing game being the worst in the NFL through the first three months of the season was a major reason why the Ravens needed to win six of their last seven games to make the playoffs. Let’s also not overlook the first half of Sunday’s game when the offense had seven straight three-and-outs and managed only two first downs to contribute to a double-digit deficit against Cincinnati. It’s no secret the Ravens didn’t exactly play a whopper of a schedule after the bye week either. Even as Joe Flacco showed much-needed improvement down the stretch, there were still plenty of head-scratching calls to point to.

Mornhinweg certainly dealt with difficult circumstances, ranging from the front office’s lack of commitment to improving the offense in the offseason to Flacco’s summer back injury and Marshal Yanda’s season-ending ankle fracture in Week 3. But does the December improvement and his overall body of work that began as the quarterbacks coach in 2015 — the first of three straight seasons in which Flacco’s yards per attempt rate has dropped — provide enough justification to retain him for another season?

Making matters more unsettling, the Ravens could lose senior offensive assistant and run-game guru Greg Roman, who is not under contract for 2018 and could garner consideration as an offensive coordinator elsewhere. His departure would renew fears about a ground attack that improved markedly this season after being woefully inadequate the previous two seasons under Marc Trestman and then Mornhinweg. A fair argument could be made to promote Roman and hire an outsider to work with Flacco and oversee the passing game, but the status quo will instead remain at the coordinator spot.

Is it continuity or complacency?

Let’s not forget this is the same head coach and organization that fired their offensive coordinator when the Ravens were 9-4 and already a safe bet to make the playoffs in mid-December of 2012. If you’re not going to shake things up after missing the postseason for the third straight year, when will you again?

Regardless of who’s calling the plays as the offensive coordinator, Harbaugh knows the Ravens must add playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Criticize Mornhinweg all you want, but having to count on the likes of Michael Campanaro and Quincy Adeboyejo with your season on the line isn’t exactly giving a coach a great chance to succeed.

“I think if anyone looks at the needs on our team, that’s where we’re going to be looking to fill our roster,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not giving away any secret there. Everybody in the league knows that. We have to do that.”

The problem is you could have pulled that same quote from 2013 or 2014 or 2015 or last year. That’s where the front office and scouting department come into the picture and must own their shortcomings.

After again pumping most of their resources into the defense last offseason, will general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens finally change up their post-Super Bowl XLVII approach or offer more of the same? Will this organization do something to finally address its blind spot at the wide receiver position? Or will they stick with what’s comfortable?

You’d think jobs are depending on it, but many assumed that to be the case a year ago.

Those fans demanding a pound of flesh were likely always going to be disappointed short of owner Steve Bisciotti waking up on New Year’s Day and electing to clean house, but there’s still little evidence of a renewed sense of urgency after another January that will be spent watching the playoffs at home. The Ravens can’t keep using the “one play away” argument and expect their fans to buy it, evident by the thousands of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium down the stretch.

Now 40-40 with only one playoff win since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans 59 months ago, Harbaugh still looked and sounded quite comfortable at the podium on Thursday, evident by the lack of changes to his staff.

It will now be up to the front office to change the Ravens’ perception to offer fans more hope for 2018 and beyond.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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Flacco expects Mornhinweg to return as Ravens offensive coordinator

Posted on 01 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will have a new defensive coordinator in 2018, but it remains to be seen whether other changes are coming to the coaching staff.

Head coach John Harbaugh hasn’t addressed the status of his staff beyond issuing a statement on Dean Pees’ retirement on Monday, but Joe Flacco said he expects offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to return next season. The veteran quarterback was asked about the importance of building continuity with the coordinator and play-caller, who took over for Marc Trestman in October of 2016.

“It’s always huge. Our relationship is growing,” Flacco said. “It’s always evolving. It’ll definitely be a big thing moving forward.”

Of course, Flacco doesn’t make the coaching staff decisions, but it’s worth noting he had just met extensively with Harbaugh before speaking with reporters in the locker room Monday afternoon. You wouldn’t think the veteran signal-caller would have wanted to comment on his offensive coordinator’s status if he was aware a change was coming, but that doesn’t mean any decision has been made.

The Ravens finished ninth in the NFL in points per game and ranked second in points scored after their Week 10 bye, but the offense reaped the benefits of a defense that led the league in takeaways and was easily among the worst in the NFL over the first three months of the season. Baltimore finished just 27th in total yards, 29th in passing offense, and 11th in rush offense.

Even with Flacco’s uptick in performance in December, he finished last among qualified quarterbacks in yards per passing attempt (5.72) and posted his lowest passer rating (80.4) and QBR (46.0) since 2013.

“We were dealing with a lot to be honest with you,” said Flacco, pretty clearly alluding to his summer back ailment and the slew of other injuries the offense sustained over the summer and early in the season. “We were trying to do our best to play winning football and put ourselves in position to win the football games the best that we could [and] the way that set up for our football team.

“I think that we had to win football games in certain ways in the early part of the year due to a lot of things. We were trying to play to that style and do those things. We just weren’t good enough at it.”

The status of senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman could also impact Mornhinweg’s future if the Ravens do not want to lose the man who coordinated an improved ground attack in 2017. If Roman draws interest as a potential offensive coordinator elsewhere, might Harbaugh and the Ravens consider promoting him and parting ways with the current offensive coordinator?

Retaining Mornhinweg this past year wasn’t a popular decision among fans, so maintaining the status quo would be a tough sell despite the improvement shown over the final month or so. Regardless of the offensive coordinator, the Ravens must upgrade the talent level at the skill positions after pumping few resources into the offense last offseason.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro as well as tight end Benjamin Watson are set to become unrestricted free agents. Starting center Ryan Jensen and offensive lineman James Hurst — who filled in for the injured Alex Lewis at left guard all season — are also scheduled to hit the open market in March.

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