Before the Ravens can be who they want to be, they have to decide who they want to be. This team can’t know where they’re going until they decide who they are; and so far at least, who they are seems to be a team suffering from an identity crisis.
The Ravens have never in their history experienced a sustained level of success that matches what they’ve accomplished over the last four years. And despite all of the “sky is falling” prognostications they look like a team that’ll be tough to keep out of a 5th straight playoff appearance. That said, it appears a safe bet that this season will end like the other four that preceded it…short of the Super Bowl.
It is the burden of expectations; a problem that more than half of the league’s teams would kill to have, but that will be of little consolation to those who have been along for this 4+ year ride.
Regardless of their previous successes or failures, the Ravens have always had an identity. Often times it was a frustrating identity, that of a team that would play to the strength of their defense and running game and that of a team that was seemingly being passed by as the rest of the league and its philosophies evolved.
For the last several years the team has appeared to be one in transition. Behind their (first ever) franchise quarterback and the franchise’s most versatile running back, Ravens fans have been pining for the switch to be flipped. This has put the offensive coordinator in a tough spot. Fans love the wide-open offense when it’s working (there were no calls complaining about Ray Rice’s touch numbers after the Ravens took apart Cincinnati in week 1) but still default back to their old school philosophies (Rice needs 25 touches per game) when it’s not working.
Cam Cameron has been the easiest of targets because he’s been the guy charged with authoring that transition, and because until he does so successfully, no one has any reason to be loyal to him. Owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t help Cam’s plight when he declared him “under fire” after the 2010 season.
In Cam’s defense though, he hasn’t exactly been set up for success. Throughout the Cameron/Harbaugh/Flacco era, the offensive line has been makeshift at best, the wide receiver corps dynamic and short staffed. The team still lacks a “go up and get it” threat that they can have confidence in between the hash marks and has instead invested heavily in a Pro-Bowl caliber backfield that’d be best served grinding out yardage on the ground.
The guy in charge of supplying that talent, Ozzie Newsome, has delivered a Super Bowl. He has a documented track record of draft successes that is tough to question much less match. And he has for that reason earned a status that insures he’ll hold his job for as long as he wants. That said, it seems that Ozzie is still building the Ravens to be a team that wins on defense and through their running game, while everyone else (in the league) is going in a different direction.
Lately Newsome has compounded those problems by “being too cute” on draft day. The Wizard’s willingness (or need) to forego first round picks in favor of stacking late round picks seems sound based on his history, but lately that abundance of picks hasn’t borne much fruit.
What the Ravens have now is an aged and beleaguered defense and an offense not built to overcome them. They have a real need to work out a long term deal with a quarterback who’ll wind up hamstringing their spending ability otherwise if he has to wear the franchise tag. And they’re a team that looks nothing like the wide-open “modern offense” that many expected them to be by now.
Steve Bisciotti took a great deal of pride back in 2005 with changing the process of communication in the building. It seems that we’re back to a place where one hand isn’t talking to the other. And it seems that the one guy who’s not on board with opening up the offense is the one who’s making the personnel decisions. That quite simply can’t work.
Before these Ravens can figure out where they’re going, they’ll have to decide who they are…and father time remains undefeated.