Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

December 30, 2013 | Drew Forrester

Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

Anyone who has followed my on-air ramblings or blogging efforts over the years will attest to the fact that I’m not the knee-jerk “fire the coach” guy when something goes wrong in a season.

The Ravens went 8-8 in 2013 for a variety of reasons, many of which are connected more to player performance than anything a coach or coaches did or didn’t do.

In fact, I can think of five players right off the top of my head that deserve to be fired based on their production in 2013, but their contract status and league salary cap rules make that fundamentally unwise.

As we begin the inevitable discourse on what went wrong with the defending champions, let’s remember from the start they lost twelve key performers from the team that beat the 49′ers in last February’s Super Bowl.  Twelve.  That’s a lot of quality to lose in one fell swoop, even if several of them were getting long in the tooth and dreaming of greener pastures.

It’s a quarterback’s league and the guy behind center in Baltimore threw 22 interceptions in sixteen games.  That’s not going to cut it.  I wrote my Joe Flacco piece last week.  You can read it here.  I’m certainly not saying he was the reason why the team failed to make the playoffs in 2013.  But, I also know he was much closer to being the reason why they missed it than he was the reason why they almost made it.  His stock took a hit in ’13.

The team’s offensive line was dismal most of the season.  The running game was a dud.  One of the team’s top receiving threats broke his hip in the first padded practice of training camp.

The Ravens’ defense wasn’t terrible — and in some cases, they were really good — but they gave up a lot of yardage in big chunks and were less than reliable in the 4th quarter throughout the sixteen week regular season.

Make no mistake about it, though.  This 2013 season will go down as the one when the Ravens offense completely fizzled.

Now, settle in for my idea of how to fix it.

Ready?

The Ravens need to make a change at Offensive Coordinator.  Yes, a firing of a coach.

It’s not completely “that simple”, of course, because Joe Flacco needs to play better, Marshal Yanda needs to play better, Ray Rice needs to play better, Torrey Smith needs to play better and so on and so on.

What we just saw, though, for sixteen weeks, was about as boring, pedestrian and unimaginative as it could possibly get from a team in the best football league in the world.

The coaches and minds behind the scenes in the NFL are supposed to be the best-of-the-best.  The cream of the crop.  What the Ravens exhibited on offense in 2013 was far from “cream of the crop” stuff.  It was dreadful.

And, because you can’t fire all the players and start over next August, the guy who runs the offense has to go.  Along with a lot of others who have had their fingerprints on the offensive blueprint in Baltimore over the last couple of years.

The Bengals used that Andy-Dalton-fake-to-the-running-back-quarterback-keeper play to absolute perfection three times during Sunday’s 34-17 win over Baltimore.  The Ravens didn’t use a play like that once the entire season.

Before you tell me Flacco is Flacco and no one can come in and teach him anything, let me remind you what just transpired in Pittsburgh this season.  Todd Haley showed up in 2012 as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, took a year to figure out what changes he thought they needed, then spent nearly four months this past off-season convincing Ben Roethlisberger he needed to shave a second or two off his snap-to-throw time in order to get the ball out more quickly and avoid taking the kind of punishment he’s known to take while running around with the ball in his hand.

Roethlisberger gave in, took to the new philosophy, and had one of his best seasons ever in 2013.

The Ravens need that sort of interjection in their offense.

They need someone to come in and say, “This needs an overhaul and I’m just the mechanic to do it.”

The quarterback might get offended at hearing that.  The running back might not like hearing it, either.  Hell, the head coach might not even be all that thrilled to hear it.

That said, it’s the truth.

The Ravens need a completely new offensive structure.  They need better players, for starters, particularly on the offensive line.  There’s no question about that.  None at all.  They can either add better players and improve or do what the Orioles do every off-season and add scrubs and/or no one and lose.

But, once they add those players, they need a new voice running the offense.

Jim Caldwell had sixteen games to convince everyone he’s the man for the job, long-term.  Unless I’m really off-base here, I don’t think he did anything to prove he should be the team’s offensive coordinator next season.

The quarterback might not like that, but, like Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco will need to come to grips with the fact that he still has room to improve his game despite owning a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy.

Privately this past season, some Ravens officials were concerned with Flacco’s attitude, particularly as it related to his public comments about the wildcat offense and the insertion of Tyrod Taylor for a handful of plays against the Jets in November.

While he’s not a malcontent by any means, Flacco can also be set in his ways to the point that he becomes unwilling to consider other options that could benefit the team.

With a new offensive coordinator in town – especially one who shows up and says, “I’m here to make Flacco better” – the stage would be set for a showdown of sorts between the quarterback who signed a $120 million contract last spring and the new voice who says, “Yeah, and then you went 8-8 after that…let’s get back to work and make you really good again.”

Rob Chudzinski was a name the Ravens talked about back in 2008 when they started evaluating head coach candidates and they thought of him mainly because of his offensive acumen.  He’s expected to be fired as the Browns’ head coach after just one season as their head honcho.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens renew their interest in him if, in fact, a change is made with Jim Caldwell.

If Jim Schwartz gets fired in Detroit, Lions’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan might be looking for a new gig.  He’s had the luxury of coaching one of the game’s most dynamic weapons in Calvin Johnson, but Linehan is a respected offensive mind throughout the NFL.

I’m not campaigning for either of those men and I haven’t seen someone at Owings Mills creating a “reserved parking spot” sign for either of them.  But, let’s just say I didn’t pick those two names out of a hat, either.

There are lots of other names to consider, of course, and the Ravens are known as one of the best “hiring organizations” in the NFL.

And, for all I know, they’re going to keep Jim Caldwell on board.

After what I saw for sixteen weeks this season, I don’t know how they can possibly do that, but I also know coaches around the league are hesitant to make huge changes in their coaching staff unless something really goes terribly wrong.

Well…2013 came and went for the Ravens and, offensively, it went “terribly wrong”.

Time for a change.

Let’s get back to work.

 

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. joe of bel air Says:

    The Ravens are crazy if they don’t hire Chudzinski. They need to do whatever it takes to get him. In 2007 he was OC of the Browns. That year they sent 4 offensive players to the Pro Bowl and the offense was ranked 8th in the league. In 2011he was OC of the Panthers. Their offense was ranked 7th and they were 5th in scoring and they set a team record for total yards.

  2. Kolo Jezdec Says:

    Don’t know much about Linehan, but he did not seem to have much influence on Stafford.

    It can be a good thing to miss the playoffs. Making changes is easier.

    BTW, first year since 2007 the AFC North has not sent two teams to he post-season.

  3. BmoreB Says:

    How can they not fire Caldwell ?

    My five year old can call a defensive game plan against Caldwell and come out looking like Dick LeBeau. She’s actually way cuter than him but you get my point.

  4. unitastoberry Says:

    It actually could have been a lot worse this year than it was. The close wins could have been losses and we could be looking at a 4-5 win season right now. I actually think Harbs did a good job of not letting it all go down the drain to that point in mid season.
    Right now you have to identify what the cancer on this team is and cut it out ASAP before it spreads even if that means eating some money and I think the owner will go along with that because he wants to win.
    I would start out by letting Pees,Caldwell,and Castillo go. Then rebuild the O line with tackles who can dominate. You have to have a stud left tackle in this league with a right handed QB. The center is also not a NFL caliber one and just hope KO returns from back surgery 100%.The spread is not Joes formation. You have to have a strong run game to get the passing game going. I know this is not fashionable in todays league but that’s what it is here. Joe is the man but turnovers and lack of TDs keep you home in January.
    Defense looks good on paper but something is wrong. They don’t get to the QB and they don’t play to the finish. You can also insert the quit word here too. Some big names here may be too happy being rich and are getting old. They need to go.
    Special teams had a great year they are the bright spot.

  5. Steve from Sandpoint Says:

    As I predicted, the Raven’s got spanked in Cincy & another embarrassment! Drew, I said 3 weeks ago Caldwell had to be replaced, his offense just stunk up the place. The Raven’s need to make changes & if you have to step on someone’s toes,so be it! Sugg’s, Rice, Elvis, Haoliti, none having great years, all disappointments. On the bright side of yesterday’s games, the Steelers did not make the playoffs !!!

  6. Chuck Says:

    Drew, you may be on to something. Perhaps Bisciotti should do what he did last year in mid-December: panic. Every 4th game Bisciotti should fire the OC and replace him with someone else. That way, the very mediocre starting QB (19 TD/22 Int; 32nd worst passer rating; never thrown for 4k yards in a season despite never having missed a start) might have an advantage over the opposition as he did last January.

    Or we can just bring back Boldin next year to bail the QB out of 3rd and 7 situations.

  7. jpetrosino Says:

    Yes, our offensive line was the biggest problem all year. Based on how well the Chief’s 2nd/3rd string offensive lineman played last night, I would start looking there first. Those guys proved they can handle a first string defense last night against the Chargers. The Raven’s offensive lineman have no clue who to block. You constantly see two of them block the same player or just miss.

    It’s amazing how poor of a job Ozzy did this past off-season. I would look there first b/c he is responsible for the players we have on the field and the contracts he locked the Ravan’s into like signing L. Webb for $10m/yr when he never proved he was a top 5 CB. (Btw Foxworth was another Ozzy gem).

  8. Dirk Says:

    My biggest beef is that while the O line was terrible as a coach/manager you should at least attempt different situations to play to their strengths but it was the same thing week after week after week. Drew – I agree the players take the most credit for a mediocre season but it was the coaches’ responsibility to tweak something, anything, for a spark and in that case they failed. However, I do have faith in the overall organization to do what is best. I think they try their best to do the right thing but sometimes it doesn’t work out. This was one of those years but they have earned another shot in 2014.

  9. The Armchair QB Says:

    Hard to disagree with the premise here, but there may be more to this than meets the eye. If Mike Preston is right, Flacco was given complete autonomy during the Super Bowl playoff run last year, but stripped of it this year in favor of the Caldwell/Hostler combo. Combine that with a new “Run Game Coordinator” who magically made the running game “disappear”, leaving the offense one dimensional and the problems run deeper than the OC. There is also the matter of the DC, whose defense regressed as the season wore on. So the needed changes transcend personnel. One final word in defense of Joe Flacco. He had a subpar year surrounded by subpar talent and coaches and took a beating as the most sacked QB in the NFL! And, if you’re completely honest in your evaluation of his performance, a case could be made that they may not have won a single game without him! Unlike Juan Castillo, Joe is NOT a….magician!

  10. Carl Says:

    I would blame NFL team parity before anything else here in Baltimore. When nearly everyone is above average, going 8-8 is a predictable result. It’s easy to take an ego-centric view of the NFL, but the fact remains, whether its Cinci, the Pats, Steelers etc, they all want to win as badly as we do, and unless you have a really special team, you’re just not going to make it to the AFC championship.
    BTW,we had a really special team last year

  11. Ralph Says:

    I believe that a change is in order due to the things you talked about ie the play-calling being horrendous. And the line was/ is awful. What is up with Ray Rice? He was terrible this year. It was a rough season and we might be worse than 8-8. Joe got angry when we trie dthe “wild-cat” game but that was a game we won. We have to try different things. And Michael Oher has had more falks starts than my brother-in-laws busienss schemes. So lets hope we get 2 line players, a new coordinator, someone who can run the ball, and a healthy Pita back for next year.

  12. Mike T Says:

    Drew,
    All I can say to Joe Flacco is welcome to Ben Roethlisberger’s world. You mentioned that Ben gave in to Todd’s philosophy but was that before or after he denied that he wanted to be dealt to Arizona and the rumors began that Haley was on the hot seat? Nicepickcowher.com states that staying with Haley is staying mediocre. It’s amazing that Haley was brought to The Burgh in order to help Ben work on getting the ball out faster when all Ben needed was offensive line help as he’s the most sacked QB in the league over the last 6 years.As for Caldwell. Is it fair of Caldwell to ask Ozzie that since took Boldin away from who are you giving me in return? Matt left so is Gino the best bullet you can give me? Pita just went down in our 1st practice so who can you give me to replace Pita at his level or somewhat close to his playing level?Just some ?’ Buck would ask Dan or Peter and remember that Peter has his own salary cap. The Ravens clearly did not have the personnel to execute plays offensively as it did last year so is it Caldwell’s fault? LeSean McCoy (NFL Rushing Champion) couldn’t run the ball behind this line so did we want Caldwell to call more running plays or mix it up how? You always said that when the team wins it’s because of the players and when they lose it’s the coaches fault.Flacco is making some serious cash and he pulls an RG3 saying that it was embarrassing running that high school type offense for a few plays back in November.Do what your told young man and be a team player unless you’re playing for free.Ravens and Steelers should be thankful they did not make the playoffs because much like Cincy they would be 1 and done.They need help and hopefully Texas A&M WR Mike Evans will be there for 1 of these 2 teams to draft if the O-Lines are addressed by that time.

  13. Kolo Jezdec Says:

    Mike T: That “one and done” stuff is exactly what was said about the Ravens last year before the playoffs started. No one can say what the Ravens or Steelers might have done in the post-season.

    Did the Steelers OL get better this year or did Ben make them look better by throwing the ball 0.9 to 2.1 seconds faster than in the previous year? (according to Pro Football Reference)

    As for welcome to Roethlisberger’s world, you are right. The Ravens will soon have to deal with a salary cap where Flacco’s salary is such that it will be hard to sign key players at other positions and the Ravens might have 7-8 players eating up 2/3 of the cap. Good luck with that

  14. Dan Says:

    And maybe The 49ers and Jim Harbaugh will be stupid enough to trade Boldin back to us for a couple of nothing players and he can have another great year only for us next year . That just might make the new OC look pretty smart . Shoot , don’t think the Niners would be that dumb . ;(

  15. tsnamm Says:

    I agree with you Drew…when the team looks this lackluster in so many different aspects of the game a shakeup is needed. There are a lot of things that need fixing, and everyone agrees it start with the O line. Flacco has to take some of the blame himself as well for his poor decision making with the throws, and overall poor ball security. Turnovers kill you and Joe was downright sloppy with the football, which is totally unacceptable, especially when he’s getting paid top flight money. That being said, Joe got hit a LOT this year, trying to make plays, so much so to the point of being injured for the 1st time in his NFL career. That falls on management, who after giving the QB $120 million allows that investment to get beaten and pounded, not too smart. The play calling was unimaginative at best, I mean it took 5 weeks before they finally pulled a bootleg which caught the other team totally off guard; how many screen passes to slow down the rush did we see? How about a draw play? Rather than trying to get a sustained drive going against the Patriots with 2 quarters of football to play (when we were still actually in the game), they kept on insisting to throw the ball 20 yards downfield forcing it between 2-3 defenders. This in a game where we were getting 4 yards a carry when we actually ran the ball. Let’s hope Bischotti has a little of “The Boss” Steinbrenner in him to keep the coaching staff from becoming too comfortable.

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