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Pondering Flacco-Harbaugh comments, Woodhead, J. Smith, Jernigan

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco expressing a desire for the Ravens offense to be more aggressive is nothing new.

The 10th-year quarterback has made similar claims in past seasons with different offensive coordinators. And with Baltimore sporting a losing record and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense, something has to give over the final seven games.

“We need to go after it. We can’t sit back and just expect us to not lose football games,” Flacco said. “There is always a part of that come late in games and depending on the nature of the game, but we have to go and attack. We’re a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in these positions and say, ‘Man, they have nothing to lose.’ And we should feel that way. We have to go out there and leave it all out there.”

John Harbaugh appeared to take exception with Flacco’s assertion that the offense hasn’t been playing to win. The retort came two days after the head coach was asked to justify Marty Mornhinweg remaining as his offensive coordinator moving forward.

It’s apparent Harbaugh doesn’t want the assistant taking all the blame for the offense’s shortcomings.

“I can’t speak for Joe. That’s what we try to do every single week,” Harbaugh said. “We open up the offense. We run schemes with our run game. We’re getting after people on defense. We try to win every single game. Players have to go out there and play great. They have to execute. If you’re talking about offense, we need to complete passes, we need to run the ball well, we need to protect our quarterback, we need to go up and make catches, we need to execute, we need first downs, we need to score points.

“It’s not about play-calling. It’s about all of us together going out there and playing winning football in all three phases.”

The difference in opinion is even more interesting in light of the recent comments made by former tight end — and Flacco’s close friend — Dennis Pitta to WBAL indicating that the quarterback has only one read in the passing game before being instructed to check down. It’s obvious that Flacco continues to rely more on short passes while attempting fewer intermediate passes than ever and struggling to connect on deep balls this season.

No matter what Harbaugh says, no one can honestly watch the Ravens offense and classify it as an aggressive unit, but the real question is if that’s by design to protect Flacco, who struggled in Marc Trestman’s more complex system. Even if the Ravens coaching staff is deliberately trying to shield the quarterback from himself, Flacco being tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions suggests the strategy isn’t working anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the veteran signal-caller has certainly left plays out on the field and the play-calling has been less than inspiring for much of the season.

Woodhead effect

There’s much excitement about the expected return of running back Danny Woodhead after the bye, but it’s fair to wonder if his presence could be counterproductive to an offense needing to be more aggressive throwing the ball down the field.

It’s great to cite his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive of the season in Cincinnati as evidence for how he can help, but that’s still a small sample size for a player who’s now missed 35 games over the last four seasons. You hope Woodhead can stay healthy enough to pick up more yards after catches than understudy Buck Allen, but Flacco relying too heavily on the 32-year-old could further stunt the other areas of the passing game that need improvement.

It’s great to have more options, but the Ravens will need much more than Woodhead’s presence to make meaningful improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Jimmy Smith’s health

Jimmy Smith has arguably been the Ravens’ best player this season and currently ranks fifth among qualified corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

But seeing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tear his Achilles tendon on Thursday Night Football made me wonder how Smith will hold up down the stretch. Sherman told reporters after the game that his Achilles had been bothering him for most of the season before it finally ruptured, which should make you take pause since Smith has been dealing with what he’s described as Achilles tendinitis for much of the year.

There’s no way of knowing how similar Smith’s situation might be to Sherman’s or if he’s in great danger of suffering the same fate, but you’d hate to see the best season of his career derailed by another injury.

Jernigan receives lucrative contract

Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is off to a good start in Philadelphia, but who predicted him getting a reported four-year, $48 million extension with $26 million guaranteed just nine games into his Eagles career?

The 2014 second-round pick ranks 16th among qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF and has flourished playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but I’d still be leery of paying him that much, especially considering how badly he faded down the stretch in his final season with the Ravens.

I suppose it’s a risk the Eagles can take when having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing on a rookie contract.

Unleash Bowser

Linebackers coach Wink Martindale believes rookie Tyus Bowser is going to be a “star” while Harbaugh wants to see the second-round pick play more after strong practices in recent weeks.

Since a standout Week 2 performance in which he intercepted a pass and collected a sack, however, Bowser has played a total of 54 defensive snaps in seven games. With the Ravens still searching for more pass-rushing production off the edges, the Houston product and fellow rookie Tim Williams need to be more in the mix down the stretch.

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Ravens stop bleeding, reboot season with win at Oakland

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stopped the bleeding and rebooted their season with a 30-17 win at Oakland on Sunday.

A road defeat wouldn’t have doomed them for the remainder of 2017, but one wonders what the ramifications might have been for a third straight loss, this one against a backup quarterback in a league having nowhere close to even 32 quality starters. The Raiders were also without two of their top three cornerbacks in a rare instance in which the opposition’s game-day injury woes could actually compete with Baltimore’s.

It was nearly a year to the day that the Ravens fired Marc Trestman, and another poor performance might have led offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to a similar fate with critics pointing to senior offensive assistant Greg Roman as a logical alternative. But such talk was halted — at least for one week — when Joe Flacco delivered a pretty 52-yard strike to the speedy Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.

That early aggressiveness coupled with the superb play of the offensive line proved to be the biggest keys in the victory as the Ravens jumped out to an early lead and produced a season-high 30 points. Their four plays of 25 or more yards eclipsed their total over their first four games (three) and deflated a struggling Raiders team also in need of a win Sunday.

It was easily Flacco’s best performance of the season as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and ended his streak of 10 consecutive games with an interception. Entering Week 5 ranked last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, the 10th-year quarterback averaged 8.54 yards per throw, his best single-game mark in nearly two years.

Not one to exaggerate or put much stock into any single win or loss over the course of his career, Flacco said Sunday’s win brought extra significance after admitting last week that the confidence of the entire offense wasn’t where it needed to be. The performance also reminded us what Flacco is capable of doing when the other variables are in proper place to help him succeed.

The running game and pass protection were strong despite the offensive line suffering its latest injury with right guard Matt Skura leaving with a knee injury early in the second half. Flacco also demonstrated better footwork, moving forward or sidestepping in the pocket to make several throws and to successfully avoid what little pressure Oakland was able to muster on Sunday. A Raiders front led by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack failed to register a sack and recorded only two quarterback hits all day.

At least for one week, the Baltimore offense was capable of playing at a level high enough to win a game in which the defense didn’t play at an incredible level. Jimmy Smith’s fumble recovery for a touchdown certainly provided extra cushion in the first quarter, but the unit’s overall play was a far cry from the first two weeks of the season when it forced a whopping 10 turnovers and the offense needed only not to screw up.

The Ravens offense even responded to adversity after the the defense allowed a Marshawn Lynch touchdown late in the third quarter to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening minutes. Without as much as a first down in their first two drives of the second half, Flacco and the offense orchestrated a 72-yard drive of more than five minutes that included critical third-down conversions to Breshad Perriman and Wallace. Justin Tucker’s short field goal put Baltimore ahead by 10 with just over 13 minutes to go and all but ended Oakland’s real hopes for a comeback.

As John Harbaugh noted in his post-game press conference, this is a week-to-week league with results frequently lacking rhyme or reason. The offense isn’t close to being out of the woods yet as a lackluster performance at home against Chicago next week will prompt the return of the same doubts and questions.

But the Ravens managed to escape a challenging and travel-filled five-week stretch to open the season with a 3-2 record, once again tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. They now face a reasonable run of alternating home and away games over the next four weeks that should keep them in the playoff hunt with any semblance of steady play going into their Week 10 bye.

To say the win at Oakland saved their season would be an exaggeration, but it did stop the substantial bleeding from the last two weeks. And there’s no telling what chain of events a third straight ugly loss might have triggered for a team in search of its first postseason berth in three years.

The Ravens instead came home with a winning record and newfound positive vibes.

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Harbaugh puts heat on own shoulders by retaining Mornhinweg

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — I was surprised by John Harbaugh’s decision to retain Marty Mornhinweg as Ravens offensive coordinator for the 2017 season.

I saw the head-scratching play calls and the lack of commitment to the running game that continued when Mornhinweg took the reins of the offense from the dismissed Marc Trestman in mid-October.

I asked Harbaugh what he saw in those last 11 games that suddenly made Mornhinweg the right man for the job after he didn’t hire him as his offensive coordinator two years ago and instead chose Trestman, someone he wasn’t nearly as familiar with. The Ravens coach offered no real specifics, saying only that he and his players believe in the veteran coordinator and believe they’re on the right track despite showing minimal improvement after his promotion.

Harbaugh proved Tuesday that he’s not afraid of making the unpopular choice. The decision now puts the heat squarely on his own shoulders if the offense fails to perform since he elected not to bring in a new offensive mind such as Mike McCoy or Ken Whisenhunt. Such a hire might have served as another scapegoat if the offense failed to improve, but Harbaugh will have no such luxury with this path.

It’s on him now with the Ravens having missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and the offense struggling in each of those non-winning seasons.

“Those decisions are taken very seriously,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not just sitting there saying, ‘It’s easier to keep everybody.’ Actually, it’s easier to do the opposite. Everybody is happy for a little while, but being pleased because something was done in January or February is different than being pleased with what you build in September, October, and through the season. That’s what I’m thinking about.”

To be fair, Mornhinweg was put in a tough spot taking over for an offense that had been a mess since the start of the 2015 season. For every success story like Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron late in the 2012 season, there are countless examples of an in-season coordinator change making little or no impact.

With a full offseason to revamp the offense, Mornhinweg could very well make improvements as he has orchestrated viable offenses in the past. Of course, much of that will depend on what players general manager Ozzie Newsome will add as the Ravens must replace wide receiver Steve Smith and may need to address both the center and right tackle spots on the offensive line.

Harbaugh and the Ravens have run out of excuses regarding the running game after throwing more passes than any team in the NFL over the last two years and setting new franchise lows in rushing attempts in consecutive seasons. Trestman was fired in large part for his hesitancy to run the football, but the Ravens averaged fewer carries per game (22.4) under Mornhinweg than in their first five contests (24.2) of the season.

It isn’t just about running more often, but Baltimore must run more effectively after ranking only 21st in the NFL in yards per carry (3.99) in 2016.

“Marty believes in running the football, and I believe in running the football,” Harbaugh said. “We have not run the football well enough or enough, really, for the last two years. That has to change. I think it goes hand in hand [with] being good at it and doing it a lot more than we do it.”

And then there’s Joe Flacco.

The ninth-year quarterback was coming off ACL surgery and was rattled playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line over the first half of the season, but he didn’t come close to playing his best football this season. Whether subconsciously compensating for a surgically-reconstructed knee or anticipating pressure when it wasn’t even there, Flacco inconsistently went through his progressions, often checking down too quickly without allowing plays to develop.

Trestman’s system wasn’t a good fit for Flacco as it required more interpretation and was more expansive than Gary Kubiak’s black-and-white version of the West Coast offense. The belief exists that Mornhinweg can cultivate a more cut-and-dry system this offseason more closely resembling Kubiak’s structure, which should help Flacco play with more confidence.

We’ll see.

Of course, strengthening the offensive line and jump-starting the running game are musts, but the Ravens need much more from their franchise quarterback, who will have a normal offseason after rehabbing all last year and will be another season removed from the injury.

“It does start with Joe. It starts with your quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “We need our quarterback to be playing at a level that changes the game in positive ways for us and makes a big difference. There are ways for Joe to play better, and he and I talked about that at length [on Monday].”

Ultimately, Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg reflects a belief that the Ravens need more talent rather than better coaching. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but no one would argue that the Ravens’ skill players on offense have been on par with those of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in recent years. Even with a blue-chip coordinator — and I’m not sure there’s truly one out there with Kubiak not only stepping down in Denver but retiring from coaching altogether — it’s difficult to imagine this offense blossoming without significant upgrades at wide receiver and center at the very least.

As has been the case for a few years, the Ravens need to find a high-impact playmaker, whether it’s at receiver, running back, or tight end.

With plenty of personnel turnover anticipated, Harbaugh believes coaching continuity is what’s best for his offense next season. He’s putting his own continuity in Baltimore on the line if he’s wrong.

“I believe that we’re going to be physical,” Harbaugh said. “I believe that we’re going to run good, solid concepts that Joe can execute efficiently. I believe, within that system, there’s room for a lot of creativity. That’s what we have to chase.”

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Flacco steers clear of Ravens offensive coordinator discussion

Posted on 02 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens gave no official word on the future of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg the day after their season officially came to an end with a 27-10 loss in Cincinnati.

Even if quarterback Joe Flacco knew of the organization’s intentions, he didn’t tip his hand on Monday.

“I have not heard much,” said Flacco, who added that he hadn’t been asked for his opinion by anyone in the organization. “As far as I am concerned, there really is not much uncertainty. I do not really anticipate anything happening.”

Many expect the Ravens to move on from Mornhinweg, who replaced Marc Trestman a day after the Week 5 loss to Washington. Head coach John Harbaugh’s official statement on the day of the change said only that Mornhinweg would serve as offensive coordinator for the remainder of the season.

Harbaugh was scheduled to address the media on Tuesday morning.

After averaging 18.8 points per game over their first five games under Trestman, the Ravens scored 22.6 points per contest with Mornhinweg calling the plays, but the lack of commitment to the running game persisted throughout the season. Baltimore set a franchise single-season low in rushing attempts for the second straight year while Flacco attempted a career-high 672 passes.

The ninth-year quarterback did eclipse the 4,000-yard passing mark for the first time in his career, but his 6.42 yards per attempt were just shy of his career low (6.37) set in 2013. Despite having two vertical threats in veteran Mike Wallace and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, Flacco rarely attempted to push the ball down the field, often settling for shorter passes and check-down throws.

“We need to find some ways to shorten some of our drives and have some bigger plays,” Flacco said. “I think that will all help moving forward. We probably have to run the ball a little bit more, but I think being ahead in some games is going to help that out. Some of the bigger plays will cut down on some of our long drives and hopefully make it a little easier for us.”

The Ravens ranked 12th in the NFL in passing yards this season, but their 6.4 yards per attempt finished 28th out of 32 teams. They finished 17th in total offense and 21st in points per game while ranking 21st in yards per carry at 4.0.

A vocal supporter of Harbaugh’s decision to replace Trestman, tight end Dennis Pitta expressed desire to maintain continuity when asked about potential changes on Monday.

“I don’t even have any idea what’s going to happen on that front,” said Pitta, who set a new franchise single-season record for receptions by a tight end with 86. “It’s a league of change, and you anticipate that every year. There’s always a lot of turnover with players; there’s turnover with coaches. Personally, I’d like to see us have some consistency and stay with the group that we’ve got. I think we have a lot to build upon, but I’m not the decision-maker, so I don’t know.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having snapped their four-game losing streak in a 21-14 win over Pittsburgh to move into first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith and rookie Tavon Young could be the best cornerback duo the Ravens have had in a while. Smith is finally playing like he did before his foot injury two years ago, and the 5-foot-9 Young is making a strong case to be more than just a slot corner.

2. His broken brace earned attention, but a first-quarter sequence from Joe Flacco was inexcusable. After snapping the ball before his receivers were set — with 10 seconds still on the play clock — to negate a third-down conversion in the red zone, he then threw across his body for an ugly interception.

3. When Mike Wallace signed his two-year contract, it was mostly viewed as a one-season deal with a scheduled $8 million cap figure for 2017. He’s caught four of Flacco’s six touchdown passes and is on pace for 1,200 yards. The Ravens are cheapskates with their receivers, but shouldn’t be here.

4. Earning his first career interception in the third quarter, Timmy Jernigan fell to the ground after previously coughing up a fumble return deep in Baltimore territory in Week 7. It was good seeing him learn from a mistake and to be able to laugh, quipping how he’s a fast learner.

5. What are the odds of a rookie scoring his first two career touchdowns in consecutive games as a member of the punt return team but not as the actual returner? Chris Moore has certainly been in the right place at the right time.

6. He didn’t put up monster numbers with just five credited tackles and a dropped interception, but the difference in the Ravens defense was tangible with C.J. Mosley back in the middle. He was a major reason why Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was a non-factor on Sunday.

7. Remember how the running game was trending upward despite Marc Trestman’s hesitancy to commit to it before his dismissal last month? The Ravens have averaged 2.4 yards per carry in three games with Marty Mornhinweg in charge.

8. With Flacco often checking down and Kenneth Dixon not showing the same explosiveness he had before his knee injury, why not give Buck Allen more chances out of the backfield? He struggles between the tackles, but he did catch 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

9. Speaking of Allen, the second-year running back provided the Ravens their 12th blocked kick since 2014 and their league-best fourth this season. When you lack dynamic play-makers, these types of special-teams plays are of the utmost importance.

10. I’m not concerned about his long-term prospects, but Ronnie Stanley committing four penalties on Sunday and acknowledging his foot was still “a little sore” after a four-game absence weren’t encouraging developments for the remainder of his rookie season.

11. I admittedly don’t spend a great deal of time discussing Justin Tucker because there’s only so much to say about his excellence. He’s a perfect 20-for-20 on the season and has silenced concerns about his accuracy from 50 yards and beyond. He’s been worth every penny of his contract.

12. How long had it been since the Ravens last won a game before Sunday’s victory? The Orioles had won four contests more recently despite their season coming to a bitter end more than a month ago. Maybe John Harbaugh just needed to call Zach Britton for some relief.

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Ravens-Giants: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Luke Jones

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Ravens are seeking a fresh start under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg after the dismissal of Marc Trestman this past week.

The problem is having three offensive starters inactive for the Week 6 meeting with the New York Giants as both teams attempt to snap losing streaks on Sunday. As expected, No. 1 wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), and rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) were all deactivated by Baltimore after missing practices and being listed as doubtful to play this week.

Smith left last Sunday’s loss to Washington in the first quarter and did not return while Yanda is missing his first game since the end of the 2012 regular season. Stanley practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday, but he will now miss his third straight game with a lingering foot ailment.

With Stanley out, fellow rookie Alex Lewis will make his second straight start at left tackle with John Urschel starting once again at left guard. Ryan Jensen will start at right guard in place of Yanda.

Despite veteran right tackle Rick Wagner (thigh) being active, he is not 100 percent and may only be available as an emergency backup. Third-year lineman James Hurst was working as the starting right tackle during pre-game warmups.

The defense is also in rough shape as linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and C.J. Mosley (hamstring) will not play after being deactivated. Dumervil was shut down again this week after quiet performances in his first two games since returning from offseason foot surgery. Mosley hurt his hamstring in the second half of the Week 5 loss to Washington and didn’t return.

With Mosley out, third-year inside linebacker Zach Orr will relay the defensive calls in the huddle and veteran Albert McClellan will move inside. Dumervil’s absence should lead to more pass-rushing opportunities for the likes of Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, and possibly Kamalei Correa on Sunday.

Veteran return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) is also inactive after missing practices on Thursday and Friday. How the Ravens elect to handle the return duties is more of a mystery as veterans Lardarius Webb, Mike Wallace, and Terrance West and rookies Chris Moore, Kenneth Dixon, and Tavon Young all fielded kicks during pre-game warmups. Webb did appear to field the majority of the punts, however.

In all, the Ravens will be trying to break their two-game slide with five former Pro Bowl players sidelined with injuries. Rookie defensive tackle Willie Henry was the only healthy scratch for Baltimore.

Meanwhile, there were no surprises among the New York Week 6 inactives as safeties Nat Berhe (concussion) and Darian Thompson (foot) and starting right tackle Marshall Newhouse (calf) were declared out on Friday. As expected, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (groin) and running back Rashad Jennings (thumb) were active after being listed as questionable.

Sunday’s referee will be Jeff Triplette.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the low 70s and winds up to nine miler per hour.

The Ravens will wear white jerseys with black pants while the Giants don blue tops with white pants.

Sunday marks the fifth regular-season meeting between these teams with Baltimore holding a 3-1 advantage, which doesn’t include the 34-7 victory in Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, 2001. However, the Ravens haven’t won a road game against the Giants since Sept. 14, 1997.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR/RS Devin Hester
LB C.J. Mosley
LB Elvis Dumervil
DT Willie Henry
G Marshal Yanda
OT Ronnie Stanley
WR Steve Smith

NEW YORK
CB Eli Apple
QB Josh Johnson
WR Tavarres King
S Darian Thompson
S Nat Berhe
LB Deontae Skinner
OT Marshall Newhouse

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Energized Ravens offense knows pressure is on to produce

Posted on 12 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens players reacted differently to the firing of Marc Trestman than they did to Cam Cameron’s removal four years ago.

Cameron’s firing was shocking to players with just three weeks remaining in the 2012 regular season. Despite the annual outside complaints and speculation about his job status, Joe Flacco and the Ravens had found much success with Cameron guiding the offense for nearly five full years. What happened in the seven weeks that followed would make history, but the change served as a jarring wake-up call for the entire offense in the midst of what had already been a 9-4 season to that point.

With Trestman, however, the Ravens had won just eight of 21 games, never finding any meaningful stretch of prosperity in his brief tenure. Following Sunday’s 16-10 loss to Washington, the frustration in the locker room was apparent as the tone had seemingly shifted from “if” to “when” in terms of a potential firing.

Two days after John Harbaugh officially replaced Trestman with quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg, players expressed kind words about their former coordinator as a person and as a coach, but their opinion of the change was crystal clear. And nobody sounded surprised.

“It was difficult to see him go, but I think it was something that this offense needed,” said tight end Dennis Pitta, who experienced the Cameron firing and isn’t known for being overly critical. “We were in kind of a bad place. It didn’t seem like we were getting out of it. Hopefully, this will spark us. Marty is a great coach, and we have a lot of faith in him. He brings an energy and an excitement to our offense that we needed. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put it together and play much better going forward.”

“Energy” and “excitement” were the buzzwords uttered by multiple players about Mornhinweg during Wednesday’s media session. Trestman’s questionable play-calling was evident to even the casual observer, but it sounded as if his personality wasn’t inspiring an offense ranking 22nd in total yards and tied for 22nd in points per game entering Week 6.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken immediately smiled when asked about their first impressions of the promoted Mornhinweg, citing his energetic personality. But that feeling will be fleeting if improved results don’t accompany the change.

Players predictably cited improved commitment to the running and taking more shots down the field as the anticipated changes in a system that can only be tweaked and not overhauled in the middle of a season. How it will play out on game day remains to be seen.

“It is just up to him as a play-caller and getting into the rhythm of the game and feeling when you do those things,” said Flacco, who was much more guarded than his teammates in discussing the change on Wednesday. “Obviously, you aren’t just picking things off the call sheet and calling them. There is a rhythm to it, and there is a reason for it. That is the biggest thing.”

Even if players weren’t surprised by the decision, one only hopes they still took a long look in the mirror on Monday.

Trestman wasn’t committing costly penalties to blow up drives on a weekly basis.

He wasn’t failing to block for Flacco.

And the 60-year-old certainly wasn’t dropping passes in critical situations.

Identifying Trestman as the problem is fair, but only if the remaining group — Harbaugh, Mornhinweg, and the players — finds the solution and fast. The training wheels are off, and it’s time for the offense to pedal faster down the street or fall into the bushes.

If it’s the latter, maybe this group just isn’t as good as we thought it could be and it will be unfortunate that Trestman had to take the fall.

“I think we just need to do what we keep doing, but just turn it up a notch,” Wallace said. “We’re in every single game. It’s just a matter of making one play here, one play there. We just need to get over the top. That’s what the coaches are trying to do to get us there. You have to explore every single situation. Unfortunately, that means some people lose their jobs. I’ve been there before myself.

“That’s football. It’s the business we’re in. Everybody knows it when you sign up, so nobody’s hanging their head or anything like that. It’s unfortunate, but everybody knows.”

And the Ravens know it’s now on them with their biggest excuse officially out the door.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 5 loss to Washington

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 after a 16-10 home defeat to Washington on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There’s no real rivalry with Washington despite how the fans might feel, but it’s quite a coincidence that the Ravens have now fired an offensive coordinator after their last two losses to the Redskins. That sounds like something straight out of a college rivalry, doesn’t it?

2. Much has been made about the lack of rushing attempts, but the Ravens didn’t even have a tailback on the field for 27 offensive snaps. They view fullback Kyle Juszczyk has their best pass blocker, but that makes an offense awfully predictable if he’s never going to carry the ball.

3. Rookie Tavon Young has impressed at the nickel all season, but injuries pressed him into action as an outside cornerback in the base defense. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Young held up well against an above-average passing game and finished with three tackles.

4. Going from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator won’t matter if the Ravens can’t get their offensive line healthy and straightened out. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore surrendered a league-worst 23 quarterback pressures on Sunday. Playing with backups or not, that’s unacceptable against a bad defense.

5. After missing the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason, rookie Kenneth Dixon touched the ball on all four of his offensive snaps in the first quarter and didn’t play after that. One only hopes that was a coaching decision and not another physical setback.

6. Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester? He’s put the ball on the ground twice in five games and isn’t playing with the confidence of a Hall of Fame returner as he twice made questionable decisions to let punts bounce in the final quarter.

7. Zach Orr missed a tackle on the return touchdown and C.J. Mosley fumbled his interception return through the end zone, but the inside linebacker play has been much better in 2016. Orr forced a fumble and recovered it in the second quarter while Mosley leads the team with three interceptions.

8. There were worse decisions, but the Ravens showing shotgun on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 8 before taking a delay of game to begin the second quarter was puzzling. Why not show a heavy formation and use a hard count to try to draw Washington offside there?

9. Despite being initially praised for addressing so many needs, the 2015 draft class hasn’t been much of a factor. Breshad Perriman has 10 catches, Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are on injured reserve, Za’Darius Smith has offered little as a pass rusher, and Buck Allen is barely seeing the field.

10. It’s a far cry from the 2000 Ravens, but this defense has been underappreciated so far. The offense and special teams have put a ton of pressure on Dean Pees’ group, but the Ravens rank seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and third-down defense.

11. Making the defensive success more remarkable is how little the Ravens have gotten from their edge pass rushers. Terrell Suggs has four sacks and still flashes, but the 34-year-old isn’t a consistent force anymore. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil and Smith have been virtually invisible so far.

12. I felt all along that the Ravens needed to be 5-2 entering the bye with a second-half schedule including four games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and trips to Dallas and New England. It can still be done, but it won’t be easy with back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium.

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Will Mornhinweg provide spark Ravens offense needs?

Posted on 10 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Based on their own history, the Ravens should be optimistic about the decision to make a change at offensive coordinator on Monday.

Of course, that feeling is relative as John Harbaugh’s decision to fire Marc Trestman wasn’t made lightly with the offense ranking in the bottom 10 in multiple categories, but the ninth-year head coach only needs to look at his Super Bowl ring to see what impact Jim Caldwell made in replacing Cam Cameron late in the 2012 season. In 2006, head coach Brian Billick parted ways with Jim Fassel after an offense-challenged 4-2 start and took over the play-calling for the duration of what would become the best regular season in franchise history at 13-3.

What can the Ravens expect from Marty Mornhinweg after two straight home losses that have threatened to derail a promising start to the 2016 campaign?

Unlike with Caldwell four years ago, Mornhinweg brings extensive experience as a play-caller after serving as an offensive coordinator for San Francisco (1997-2000), Philadelphia (2004-2012), and the New York Jets (2013-2014) in his long NFL coaching career. He guided multiple top 10 offenses with the talent-laden 49ers and Eagles, but he fared about as poorly in New York as you’d predict knowing how Geno Smith ultimately turned out as an NFL quarterback.

As you’d anticipate with any in-season coaching move, the Ravens aren’t about to tear up their playbook.

“It’s experience in this system — basically, the West Coast [offense] terminology,” Harbaugh said. “He fits right in. I know there will be some things that he will tweak, but the basic system is not going to change. The way we adjust some routes maybe or the way we organize our protections or some of our play-action passes, that’s all of the stuff that Marty has to do the way he believes it should be done. But the basic system terminology [and] the way we operate remains the same.”

It was a similar story for Caldwell, who replaced the man who had overseen the Ravens offense for nearly five full seasons. The change wasn’t a magic potion, but Caldwell welcomed more input from players, used the middle of the field more effectively in the passing game, and had a better feel for the utilization of the no-huddle offense as Joe Flacco would respond to the change by playing the best football of his career in a historic playoff run.

The 2013 season showed that Caldwell wasn’t a miracle worker as personnel losses and a broken running game led to a disappointing 8-8 record for the defending Super Bowl champions, but he was able to provide that spark in 2012 for a talented group to find its way. Harbaugh can only hope that Mornhinweg will have a similar effect this time around.

The job will start with unleashing a running game that’s looked better over the last two weeks despite continuing to be underutilized by Trestman. With an offensive line currently battling injuries and a young running back in Terrance West averaging 5.0 yards per carry, there’s just no reason for Flacco to be throwing the ball 45 or 50 times per game unless the Ravens are behind by multiple scores.

“We are improving. That is the tug-of-war you always have in there,” said Harbaugh, citing a conversation he had with offensive line coach Juan Castillo about the ground attack on Monday. “We all have a lot of pride, and we want to find a way to keep improving it within that. Next week is a new week. It is getting better. I do like the way Terrance is running, and I like the way the other guys are running, too. I expect to see more of those guys, also. More carries for everybody would be good.”

Perhaps Harbaugh — the longtime special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles before being hired in Baltimore — recalled the work Mornhinweg did for the Eagles in 2006 when head coach Andy Reid handed over the play-calling duties after a blowout loss to Indianapolis in Week 12. With Mornhinweg placing more emphasis on the running game, the Eagles — led by backup quarterback Jeff Garcia — won six games in a row to advance to the second round of the playoffs that season.

No matter how much frustration there might have been with Trestman, this change can’t be viewed as a magic fix as there are issues going beyond the play-calling.

The offensive line must get healthy and perform at a higher level than we’ve witnessed through the first five games.

Wide receivers other than the 37-year-old Steve Smith must show better hands and more consistency, and it will then be up to Mornhinweg to find the vertical passing game envisioned by many throughout the offseason and summer.

The trio of young running backs will need to take advantage of the increased number of carries expected to come their way.

And despite being lower on the list of concerns, Flacco must still play better than he has so far in 2016.

If players don’t take these challenges into their own hands, the promotion of Mornhinweg will only be a footnote in a season suddenly moving in the wrong direction.

“We just need to get better,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t feel in my gut that — going the way we were going — it was going to change [and] it was going to be able to get better. Not that everybody wasn’t trying. Everybody was doing everything they could do. I just think we need different chemistry in there right now to get to where we need to go.

“Marc Trestman’s the guy that’s going to suffer the most at this time, but it’s all of our responsibility that this happened. It’s all of our responsibility to get it right.”

And it will be all of their responsibility if history is to repeat itself for the Ravens.

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Ravens fire Trestman, appoint Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator

Posted on 10 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With a struggling offense and having lost two straight home games, the Ravens have made a coaching change.

Head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman less than 24 hours after Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in which the Ravens were shut out over the final 44 minutes of play. Quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg will take over as the offensive coordinator for the remainder of the season.

“My obligations are to the team, the organization, and the fans to be the very best team we can be,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team on Monday morning. “Today we find ourselves one game out of the division and conference lead after experiencing two tough losses at home. We will work to be better in every aspect of our football team. Our expectations are high, and we look forward to fulfilling them.

“I appreciate and respect the efforts and contributions Marc has made to the team since his arrival. Marc is a good person and an excellent football coach.”

With the Ravens failing to convert a third down and running the ball just eight times after the first quarter of Sunday’s loss, Harbaugh had apparently seen enough from an offense that has lacked any identity or consistency despite a 3-2 start to the 2016 season. Baltimore is averaging just 18.8 points per game, ranking 23rd in the NFL.

Frustration had continued to mount over the running game as Terrance West averaged 8.6 yards per attempt on just 11 carries in Sunday’s loss despite the Ravens never falling behind by more than one possession. The Ravens currently lead the NFL in passing attempts while ranking last in yards per attempt and 22nd in passing yards per game.

Though remembered by most for his unsuccessful run as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Mornhinweg owns extensive experience as an offensive coordinator, serving in that capacity with San Francisco, Philadelphia, and the New York Jets. He has worked with such quarterbacks as Hall of Famers Steve Young and Brett Favre and Pro Bowl selections Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia.

Mornhinweg will now become Baltimore’s fifth offensive coordinator since the start of the 2012 season.

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