OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Based on their own history, the Ravens should be optimistic about the decision to make a change at offensive coordinator on Monday.
Of course, that feeling is relative as John Harbaugh’s decision to fire Marc Trestman wasn’t made lightly with the offense ranking in the bottom 10 in multiple categories, but the ninth-year head coach only needs to look at his Super Bowl ring to see what impact Jim Caldwell made in replacing Cam Cameron late in the 2012 season. In 2006, head coach Brian Billick parted ways with Jim Fassel after an offense-challenged 4-2 start and took over the play-calling for the duration of what would become the best regular season in franchise history at 13-3.
What can the Ravens expect from Marty Mornhinweg after two straight home losses that have threatened to derail a promising start to the 2016 campaign?
Unlike with Caldwell four years ago, Mornhinweg brings extensive experience as a play-caller after serving as an offensive coordinator for San Francisco (1997-2000), Philadelphia (2004-2012), and the New York Jets (2013-2014) in his long NFL coaching career. He guided multiple top 10 offenses with the talent-laden 49ers and Eagles, but he fared about as poorly in New York as you’d predict knowing how Geno Smith ultimately turned out as an NFL quarterback.
As you’d anticipate with any in-season coaching move, the Ravens aren’t about to tear up their playbook.
“It’s experience in this system — basically, the West Coast [offense] terminology,” Harbaugh said. “He fits right in. I know there will be some things that he will tweak, but the basic system is not going to change. The way we adjust some routes maybe or the way we organize our protections or some of our play-action passes, that’s all of the stuff that Marty has to do the way he believes it should be done. But the basic system terminology [and] the way we operate remains the same.”
It was a similar story for Caldwell, who replaced the man who had overseen the Ravens offense for nearly five full seasons. The change wasn’t a magic potion, but Caldwell welcomed more input from players, used the middle of the field more effectively in the passing game, and had a better feel for the utilization of the no-huddle offense as Joe Flacco would respond to the change by playing the best football of his career in a historic playoff run.
The 2013 season showed that Caldwell wasn’t a miracle worker as personnel losses and a broken running game led to a disappointing 8-8 record for the defending Super Bowl champions, but he was able to provide that spark in 2012 for a talented group to find its way. Harbaugh can only hope that Mornhinweg will have a similar effect this time around.
The job will start with unleashing a running game that’s looked better over the last two weeks despite continuing to be underutilized by Trestman. With an offensive line currently battling injuries and a young running back in Terrance West averaging 5.0 yards per carry, there’s just no reason for Flacco to be throwing the ball 45 or 50 times per game unless the Ravens are behind by multiple scores.
“We are improving. That is the tug-of-war you always have in there,” said Harbaugh, citing a conversation he had with offensive line coach Juan Castillo about the ground attack on Monday. “We all have a lot of pride, and we want to find a way to keep improving it within that. Next week is a new week. It is getting better. I do like the way Terrance is running, and I like the way the other guys are running, too. I expect to see more of those guys, also. More carries for everybody would be good.”
Perhaps Harbaugh — the longtime special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles before being hired in Baltimore — recalled the work Mornhinweg did for the Eagles in 2006 when head coach Andy Reid handed over the play-calling duties after a blowout loss to Indianapolis in Week 12. With Mornhinweg placing more emphasis on the running game, the Eagles — led by backup quarterback Jeff Garcia — won six games in a row to advance to the second round of the playoffs that season.
No matter how much frustration there might have been with Trestman, this change can’t be viewed as a magic fix as there are issues going beyond the play-calling.
The offensive line must get healthy and perform at a higher level than we’ve witnessed through the first five games.
Wide receivers other than the 37-year-old Steve Smith must show better hands and more consistency, and it will then be up to Mornhinweg to find the vertical passing game envisioned by many throughout the offseason and summer.
The trio of young running backs will need to take advantage of the increased number of carries expected to come their way.
And despite being lower on the list of concerns, Flacco must still play better than he has so far in 2016.
If players don’t take these challenges into their own hands, the promotion of Mornhinweg will only be a footnote in a season suddenly moving in the wrong direction.
“We just need to get better,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t feel in my gut that — going the way we were going — it was going to change [and] it was going to be able to get better. Not that everybody wasn’t trying. Everybody was doing everything they could do. I just think we need different chemistry in there right now to get to where we need to go.
“Marc Trestman’s the guy that’s going to suffer the most at this time, but it’s all of our responsibility that this happened. It’s all of our responsibility to get it right.”
And it will be all of their responsibility if history is to repeat itself for the Ravens.