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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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antoniobrown

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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brandonwilliams

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Examining the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face another critical offseason on the heels of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.

As has been the case on an annual basis, salary cap space will be an issue as the Ravens hold an estimated 2017 commitment of over $152 million to 52 players (not including free agents), according to Spotrac.com. The 2017 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $155.27 million in 2016 to at least the $163 million-to-$165 million range, which still leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome with some tough maneuvering to clear more space and add to a roster with obvious deficiencies.

Of course, the Ravens are likely to clear cap space by renegotiating or terminating several veteran contracts. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safeties Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington, and tight ends Benjamin Watson and Dennis Pitta stand out as potential cap casualties.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 9 at 4 p.m.

WR Kamar Aiken – Steve Smith’s retirement would make Aiken a better fit to re-sign, but he was very unhappy with his role in 2016 and is more likely to move on at this point. 

G Vlad Ducasse – The veteran was re-signed to the 53-man roster in October and started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens will likely look younger and cheaper for depth.

S Matt Elam – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens re-sign Elam to a cheap short-term deal, but that doesn’t prevent him from going down as the worst defensive first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy – A reliable 5-technique defensive end, Guy wouldn’t figure to be in high demand, but the Ravens also have some younger options in Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi.

FB Kyle Juszczyk – Widely regarded as the best fullback in the NFL, the 2016 Pro Bowl selection will have other interest, but the Ravens will likely value him more than most teams.

DB Anthony Levine – One of the Ravens’ best special-teams players over the last four years, Levine is likely to be welcomed back on a cheap deal with a minimal guarantee.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris – The former Cincinnati Bengal saw little action on defense and will not be a priority, leaving him to likely explore his options elsewhere.

QB Ryan Mallett – The 28-year-old has been able to repair his reputation in Baltimore, but you would expect Mallett to explore other situations where he has a chance to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers – The veteran corner had his moments early, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is a better fit to slide inside to defend the slot in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner – The 2013 fifth-round pick has been a rock-solid right tackle, but can the Ravens pay him $6 million to $7 million per season with so many other needs?

DT Brandon Williams – He’s their top free agent, but the Ravens’ collection of interior defensive linemen makes it tough to justify paying him lucrative money if the bidding gets out of hand.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender was offered to that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2017 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.635 million in 2016) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.553 million in 2016) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.671 million in 2016) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the competing figure and would not receive any compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo the tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

S Marqueston Huff (fourth) – Given the Ravens’ lack of depth at safety, Huff could be re-signed to a cheaper one- or two-year deal to compete for a job in training camp.

OL James Hurst (undrafted) – The North Carolina product has fared poorly with many chances, but he’s a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo and could be re-signed on a minimum deal.

OL Ryan Jensen (sixth) – After starting three games in the first half of the season, Jensen appeared to fall out of favor and was inactive for the final nine weeks, leaving his future in question.

LB Zach Orr (undrafted) – One of the great stories of the 2016 season, the starting inside linebacker led the Ravens in tackles and would be a good bet to receive the second-round tender.

CB Jumal Rolle (undrafted) – Rolle tore his Achilles tendon in spring workouts, but Baltimore could sign him to a cheaper deal to take a look at him in organized team activities and training camp.

RB Terrance West (third) – The Towson product got his NFL career back on track with 774 rushing yards in 2016 and would be a good bet to receive the low tender as a former third-round pick.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are non-guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

LB Brennen Beyer – The Ravens rewarded the Michigan product with a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster, and he’ll compete for a roster spot next summer.

WR Michael Campanaro – The River Hill grad has clear ability, but health concerns make it impossible to envision a meaningful role for him until he proves he can stay on the field.

LB Lamar Louis – Signed to the roster in mid-December, Louis was inactive for three straight games and will compete for a roster spot in the spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews – The Ravens love his 6-foot-5 frame, but Matthews spent the season on IR and will need to have a big offseason to try to secure a roster spot.

LB Patrick Onwuasor – He led the Ravens in special-teams tackles despite not being promoted to the active roster until October and is an interesting young player to watch next year.

CB Sheldon Price – The 6-foot-2 corner drew the start in Week 5 before injuring his biceps and being placed on IR and is a young talent to watch this spring and summer.

WR Keenan Reynolds – Baltimore promoted the former Navy star to the 53-man roster in Week 17 to avoid other teams coming after his services, but this offseason will be big for his development.

OT De’Ondre Wesley – The 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman spent the 2016 campaign on IR and is a developmental tackle to keep an eye on next summer.

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Steve Smith submits official retirement letter with style

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Steve Smith has officially submitted his retirement letter to the NFL while taking a final shot at his competitors.

The former Ravens wide receiver shared his letter to commissioner Roger Goodell via his official Twitter account on Friday morning, which notes that he “will no longer be antagonizing defensive backs” in the NFL. Though saying he was 89 percent likely to retire prior to Baltimore’s season-ending loss at Cincinnati, Smith confirmed his decision to walk away from a 16-year career after the 27-10 defeat.

Returning from a horrific Achilles tendon injury to play one more season, the 37-year-old added to his impressive credentials with 70 catches for 799 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games. The five-time Pro Bowl receiver retires from the game ranking seventh in all-time receiving yards (14,731), 12th in career receptions (1,031), and 26th in touchdown receptions (81), numbers that give him a compelling case for eventual Hall of Fame induction.

Smith spent the first 13 seasons of his career with the Carolina Panthers before joining the Ravens in 2014.

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Construction to keep fans away from Ravens training camp in 2017

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Luke Jones

After inviting more and more fans to training camp in Owings Mills in the last few years, the Ravens will take a hiatus to be able to accommodate even larger groups in 2018 and beyond.

Due to the start of a $45 million renovation project at the Under Armour Performance Center, the organization announced it will not be able to welcome fans to this summer’s training camp. The Ravens plan to once again hold free practices at M&T Bank Stadium as they’ve done annually.

“We are disappointed that we will not be able to have fans at our training camp this summer because of the ongoing construction,” Ravens president Dick Cass told the official team website. “But the good news is that when fans return to training camp in the summer of 2018, the changes we are now making will make the fan experience at training camp even better.”

The organization has purchased more land surrounding the facility, which will create more parking to accommodate fans at summer practices in the future. The plan is to provide parking for up to 1,200 fans.

In 2011, the Ravens permanently moved their annual training camp from McDaniel College in Westminster to their Owings Mills training facility, but they conducted lotteries to invite season-ticket holders to watch practices in recent summers.

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Ravens reportedly let go two assistants from coaching staff

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Luke Jones

After head coach John Harbaugh announced earlier this week that his three coordinators would return for the 2017 season, the Ravens have reportedly let go of two assistant coaches.

According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington and director of strength and conditioning Bob Rogucki will not return next season. The Ravens had made no formal announcement as of Thursday evening, but Harbaugh said Tuesday that staff changes would be coming despite the returns of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

“Guys have opportunities. Guys have goals and ambitions and stuff like that,” Harbaugh said. “If you go through the ranks of different guys, everybody is in a different place. There’s always going to be change on your staff. We’re going to look to try to bring in some infusion of ideas, talent, and coaching ability that can make us better.”

Washington became the Ravens’ assistant offensive line coach in 2011 when Andy Moeller was in charge of the group and worked under current offensive line coach Juan Castillo for the last four seasons. A former NFL offensive lineman, the 40-year-old Washington became the 13th man in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a player and as a coach when Baltimore won Super Bowl XLVII. In 2013, Washington turned down an offer to become the offensive line coach at the University of Southern California.

The Ravens offensive line endured injuries and inconsistency through much of the 2016 season, which isn’t the first time that Castillo’s work has come under fire. However, Harbaugh endorsed Castillo when asked if the group was on the right track going into 2017.

“We have a very good offensive line coach,” Harbaugh said. “If you watch him coach — which you guys do — I think it would be hard to watch him coach those guys and not think he does a very good job. But the other part of that is that we have to run the ball better, and we have to keep Joe [Flacco] cleaner. Every offensive line in the league feels like they want to keep their quarterback clean. I want to be great up front, and that is what we are shooting for.”

Rogucki, 63, had been part of the coaching staff since 2008 and spent time with Harbaugh in Philadelphia prior to that. The Ravens revamped their offseason training program in 2016 after hiring director of performance and recovery Steve Saunders.

A record number of players were placed on injured reserve during the 2015 season, prompting the organization to reevaluate its training methods.

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Revamping pass rush big priority for Ravens this offseason

Posted on 04 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There wasn’t much to like about the Ravens defense over the final four weeks of the 2016 season.

Allowing 26 or more points in each of the last four contests and 127 or more rushing yards in the final three games, a unit that entered Week 14 ranked first in total defense was anything but special down the stretch. The late struggles of the run defense garnered much attention, but the season-long ineffectiveness of the pass rush was magnified when the Ravens needed it the most as top cornerback Jimmy Smith was sidelined.

Baltimore collected a total of three sacks over those final four games with two coming from veteran rush specialist Elvis Dumervil, who was limited to eight games while recovering from offseason Achilles tendon surgery. Turning 33 later this month, Dumervil is entering the final season of a five-year contract and is scheduled for a $6 million salary and an $8.375 million salary cap figure for 2017.

“I was able to — the last five or six games of the season — come out and be a little productive, so I’m looking forward to next season,” said Dumervil, who estimated being at 85 percent from where he was before the injury. “I’ve got one year left on the deal, so that’s where I’m at right now. Me personally, I’m trying to get my body back to where I need to be, so that’s the most important thing for me.”

His price tag and age make Dumervil a prime candidate to be a cap casualty, but the Ravens must first construct a plan to boost their pass rush in 2017 after finishing tied for 24th with 31 sacks. Though still a productive all-around player while leading the Ravens with eight sacks, six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will turn 35 next season and did not record a single quarterback takedown in the final five games.

It’s obvious that the Ravens’ need youthful options who can get after the quarterback, but 2015 fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith failed to pop in his second season like the organization had hoped and managed just one sack in 494 defensive snaps. Fifth-round rookie Matt Judon flashed potential with four sacks, but Smith had also shown promising signs with 5 1/2 sacks in his rookie season before disappointing in 2016.

“We have to get there,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who believes Judon has the potential to become a premier player. “It is one thing to have high hopes; it is another thing to get there. We are looking for another pass rusher certainly.”

Of course, the Ravens could have selected edge rusher Noah Spence in the second round of last year’s draft, but general manager Ozzie Newsome instead traded back and eventually took Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa, who profiles more as an inside option and played sparingly as a rookie. Spence was selected by Tampa Bay in the second round and finished with 5 1/2 sacks in 2016.

Whether a prospect such as Alabama’s Tim Williams or Carl Lawson of Auburn is the right fit with the 16th pick in this spring’s draft remains to be seen, but the Ravens can no longer count on Suggs continuing to fight off Father Time and must do more to address what was a clear weakness in 2016.

At the end of the season, the Ravens were unable to get to the quarterback with a four-man rush and were too vulnerable in the secondary. You can scheme ways to overcome one or the other, but a defense will almost always break when enduring both of those deficiencies.

And that’s exactly what happened to a group that had played admirably for most of the season.

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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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2017 opponents, draft pick set for Ravens following season-ending loss

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With their 2016 season coming to an end, the Ravens learned where they will be selecting in the 2017 NFL draft.

Falling to 8-8 after their 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Baltimore will own the 16th pick in the first round of the draft, which will take place in Philadelphia beginning April 27. The Ravens selected left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick of last year’s draft.

The Ravens’ list of 2017 opponents was also finalized on Sunday, but dates for games will not be released until the full regular-season schedule is announced in April. In addition to their divisional games, Baltimore will play the AFC South and the NFC North next season as well as the second-place teams from the AFC East (Miami) and AFC West (Oakland).

HOME: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Miami

AWAY: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville (in London), Tennessee, Green Bay, Minnesota, Oakland

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