OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A few summers ago, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh walked to the interview podium wearing a shirt with an appropriate slogan for a sweltering training camp practice.
Many are wondering if the Ravens are just plain comfortable these days despite having missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Harbaugh’s decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t do anything to debunk that perception. We may never know if the Ravens might have even retained defensive coordinator Dean Pees had he not chosen to retire.
Having just finished his first decade in Baltimore, Harbaugh began Thursday’s press conference not by lamenting his team not being good enough in 2017, but he instead expressed deep pride in his players’ hard work to be the best they could be. That’s a noble sentiment and not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the opening message your fan base wants to hear four days after one of the biggest collapses and worst home losses in team history. This is a results-driven business in which praise for hard work and doing your best rings hollow when you fail in such a crucial situation.
Announcing he was retaining Mornhinweg made it even worse.
“I believe in these coaches. I understand the job that they did this year because I see it close up,” said Harbaugh, who cited the the Ravens being the second-highest scoring team in the NFL after their bye week. “I think our offense made a heck of a lot of progress, especially considering the adversity that we faced and the challenges we were up against this year. That’s why we are rolling.”
Of course, the passing game being the worst in the NFL through the first three months of the season was a major reason why the Ravens needed to win six of their last seven games to make the playoffs. Let’s also not overlook the first half of Sunday’s game when the offense had seven straight three-and-outs and managed only two first downs to contribute to a double-digit deficit against Cincinnati. It’s no secret the Ravens didn’t exactly play a whopper of a schedule after the bye week either. Even as Joe Flacco showed much-needed improvement down the stretch, there were still plenty of head-scratching calls to point to.
Mornhinweg certainly dealt with difficult circumstances, ranging from the front office’s lack of commitment to improving the offense in the offseason to Flacco’s summer back injury and Marshal Yanda’s season-ending ankle fracture in Week 3. But does the December improvement and his overall body of work that began as the quarterbacks coach in 2015 — the first of three straight seasons in which Flacco’s yards per attempt rate has dropped — provide enough justification to retain him for another season?
Making matters more unsettling, the Ravens could lose senior offensive assistant and run-game guru Greg Roman, who is not under contract for 2018 and could garner consideration as an offensive coordinator elsewhere. His departure would renew fears about a ground attack that improved markedly this season after being woefully inadequate the previous two seasons under Marc Trestman and then Mornhinweg. A fair argument could be made to promote Roman and hire an outsider to work with Flacco and oversee the passing game, but the status quo will instead remain at the coordinator spot.
Is it continuity or complacency?
Let’s not forget this is the same head coach and organization that fired their offensive coordinator when the Ravens were 9-4 and already a safe bet to make the playoffs in mid-December of 2012. If you’re not going to shake things up after missing the postseason for the third straight year, when will you again?
Regardless of who’s calling the plays as the offensive coordinator, Harbaugh knows the Ravens must add playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Criticize Mornhinweg all you want, but having to count on the likes of Michael Campanaro and Quincy Adeboyejo with your season on the line isn’t exactly giving a coach a great chance to succeed.
“I think if anyone looks at the needs on our team, that’s where we’re going to be looking to fill our roster,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not giving away any secret there. Everybody in the league knows that. We have to do that.”
The problem is you could have pulled that same quote from 2013 or 2014 or 2015 or last year. That’s where the front office and scouting department come into the picture and must own their shortcomings.
After again pumping most of their resources into the defense last offseason, will general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens finally change up their post-Super Bowl XLVII approach or offer more of the same? Will this organization do something to finally address its blind spot at the wide receiver position? Or will they stick with what’s comfortable?
You’d think jobs are depending on it, but many assumed that to be the case a year ago.
Those fans demanding a pound of flesh were likely always going to be disappointed short of owner Steve Bisciotti waking up on New Year’s Day and electing to clean house, but there’s still little evidence of a renewed sense of urgency after another January that will be spent watching the playoffs at home. The Ravens can’t keep using the “one play away” argument and expect their fans to buy it, evident by the thousands of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium down the stretch.
Now 40-40 with only one playoff win since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans 59 months ago, Harbaugh still looked and sounded quite comfortable at the podium on Thursday, evident by the lack of changes to his staff.
It will now be up to the front office to change the Ravens’ perception to offer fans more hope for 2018 and beyond.