The 2015 season is finally over for the Ravens.
Fourteen of their 16 games were decided by a single possession.
Twenty-one players finished the season on injured reserve or on the physically unable to perform list. That list included eight starters as well as 2015 first-round receiver Breshad Perriman.
Head coach John Harbaugh still called it one of his most rewarding seasons with the way his players and coaches continued to fight and show heart every week, but all of this only clouds the truth about one of the most disappointing years in the history of the franchise.
Despite plenty of preseason love, the Ravens lacked the dynamic playmakers to be a serious contender this year.
That reality was apparent before the laundry list of injuries decimated the Ravens to the point that you needed a roster sheet handy just to follow the final weeks of action. Remember that other than outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Perriman, an unproven rookie who was the only plan for replacing speedy receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens were still a relatively-healthy football team when they entered Week 8 with a 1-6 record and their season all but shot.
And this is where general manager Ozzie Newsome could face more scrutiny this offseason than at any point during his 20 mostly-brilliant years in Baltimore.
It will be interesting to see where owner Steve Bisciotti directs his disappointment when the Ravens brass meets with the media to discuss the 2015 season and what lies ahead. While coaches and players have faced the music on a weekly basis and must shoulder their part of the blame, it’s difficult to win consistently without dynamic, game-changing players on either side of the football.
The Ravens simply lacked the speed and big-play talent at crucial positions such as wide receiver, edge rusher, and in the secondary to win in the modern NFL.
Ultimately, Newsome is responsible for putting together the roster. Many factors brought the Ravens to this point with some of those out of the general manager’s control but others falling directly on his shoulders.
To be clear, the Ravens don’t need to overhaul their entire roster as they have some good players on both sides of the ball, but they lack the special ones for which the opposition game-plans on a weekly basis in the way Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert showed on Sunday. With injured franchise quarterback Joe Flacco expected to be ready for training camp and Harbaugh showing commendable leadership in keeping the locker room together during an 11-loss season, the Ravens are in a much better position than many non-playoff teams, but they will need a strong offseason to return to the playoffs next season.
Baltimore has multiple needs including finding a ball-hawking defensive back, bolstering the pass rush, adding more speed to the wide receiver position, and potentially making their latest change at left tackle.
Choosing sixth overall in the 2016 draft should certainly help, but Newsome and the rest of the front office need to take a long look at the way they’ve done things in recent years as there were many falling dominoes that led to such a disappointing season. Recent draft history, bad contracts, and too much reliance on unproven players were all factors contributing to a 5-11 season before it ever began.
There’s been too little emphasis on speed at multiple positions, and Newsome hasn’t put enough talent around a quarterback who’s in his prime and has already proven he can win a championship with a good — not necessarily great — supporting cast around him.
Harbaugh has answered questions all year, but Newsome hasn’t addressed the media since the final day of the draft, which will make his first public comments about the 2015 season highly anticipated. Changes to the coaching staff could be coming, but improving personnel will be far more important to the Ravens’ fate in 2016 and beyond.
Injuries, questionable officiating, and tough breaks in close games may have contributed to a 5-11 record, but this was a flawed team from the start and not the Super Bowl contender that the Ravens — or outsiders — thought it was. You just hope the decision-makers acknowledge as much instead of using injuries as the primary excuse or trying to shift too much blame to Harbaugh, his coaches, and current players.
It may not have been easy watching the Ravens play out the string, but now the tough part begins.
Fixing a football team with a plethora of needs.