The Baltimore Ravens are angry. They are angry about their 2013 season and they should be. These “angry birds” had an awful season led by an awful Offense. It was an offensive unit that, under normal circumstances, would qualify a team to pick first in the draft but the Ravens’ Defense and Special Teams kept that from happening. They actually managed to win eight games despite their woeful offensive performance.
The Ravens Offense, ranked number eighteen in the NFL, limped through the season with a makeshift offensive line, a banged up Tight End corps, a completely ineffective running game and a highly paid, underachieving starting Quarterback. In retrospect, their eighteenth place ranking actually made the Ravens’ Offense look better than they actually were.
The passing game for the 2013 Ravens was not much better than their meager rushing attack. The Ravens’ “swinging gate” offensive line gave up 48 sacks. Twenty six other NFL teams did not give up that many. Right Tackle Michael Oher was roundly criticized, and he deserved that criticism, for giving up sacks and collecting “false start” penalties. However, Oher, who is now with the Tennessee Titans, only accounted for eight of the 48 sacks, so the problem is much bigger than a Right Tackle, even one that the team has not yet successfully replaced.
Part of the sack problem lies at the feet of Quarterback Joe Flacco, a player with third tier quarterback skills and a top tier contract. Flacco, whose career numbers are average (his career QBR is 51.2 and his passer rating is 83.7) and regular season play is average, tends to hold the ball too long and seems reluctant to throw the ball away when cornered. This year, the Ravens have surrounded the sixth year Quarterback with an array of quality weapons. If Flacco fails to excel this year, it might be time for the Ravens to go QB shopping.
In 2013, Flacco threw 19 touchdown passes which tied him at eighteenth over-all with Mike Glennon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who only played 13 games and Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears who played in 11 games. However, Cutler only threw half of the “picks” that Flacco threw and Glennon threw even fewer (9). Most fans believe Flacco had an “off” year, but his 2013 stats (with the exception of interceptions) were only slightly below his average year.
Flacco and back-up Quarterback Tyrod Taylor combined for a pass completion percentage of 58.6 (Flacco’s was 59.0) which ranked the Ravens at No. 22. The Ravens’ pass completion percentage tied them with the Houston Texans, a team that was so bad they had the first over-all pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Their combined Passer Rating was 72.0 (29th in the league). That means twenty eight teams had better passers at the Quarterback position than the Ravens.
The Ravens’ running game was even worse than their passing game in 2013. Only two teams (the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars) were worse than the Ravens at gaining yardage on the ground. In addition, the Ravens were the worst team in the NFL in yards gained per carry. At 3.1 yards per attempt, the Ravens’ average, they could run the ball three consecutive times and would not get a first down.
So, what do the Ravens need to do to fix their offensive problems? How can they assure fans that they are committed to having a much better season this year? What can they do to add some “juice” to their rushing attack?
Fortunately, Team Owner Steve Bisciotti, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh began taking steps to improve the team almost immediately after their Season Review press conference on January 8, 2014. One of the first moves they made was to revamp the coaching staff, especially on offense. They capped off the coaching staff renovation by hiring Gary Kubiak, the former Head Coach of the Houston Texans, as Offensive Coordinator.
Following (and during) the coaching moves, the Ravens began to address the offensive line by re-signing free agent Left Tackle Eugene Monroe and Tight End Dennis Pitta. They then addressed the Center position by acquiring Center/Guard Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to replace second year player Gino Gradkowski as the starter. The Ravens still think very highly of Gradkowski but seemingly more as a Guard than Center.
Good fortune smiled on the Ravens when Right Guard, Marshal Yanda, who has been a mainstay in the Ravens’ offensive line, proclaimed that his health was nearing 100 percent after having a couple of months to “heal”. Likewise, Kelechi Osemele, the Ravens starting Left Guard who is returning from a season ending injury, proclaimed he is healthy and ready to play in 2014.
Although things are “looking up” for the offensive line, the same cannot be said for the Ravens’ Running Backs. The backfield tandem of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for a paltry six rushing touchdowns (Flacco scored the seventh). The only changes the team has made, other than adding a draft pick and a few “camp bodies”, is replacing journey man Bernard Scott with journeyman Justin Forsett.
With Ray Rice awaiting suspension for his alleged mis-conduct in Atlantic City, Bernard Pierce’s durability in question, Justin Forsett”s status as a career back-up and the remaining Running Backs destined for the “cut” list or practice squad, it appears the Ravens “ground and pound” attack might resemble 2013’s rush to mediocrity. However, if fourth round draft pick Lorenzo Taliaferro shows enough promise during training camp and in pre-season games, he could replace Forsett in the Ravens’ backfield, otherwise, it should surprise no one if the Ravens acquire another starter at Running Back before the season starts.
The passing game appears to be in better shape this season with the addition of Steve Smith Sr, the long time “Field General” of the Carolina Panthers. Torrey Smith is growing nicely into the No. 1 Wide Receiver role and Steve Smith is poised to handle the No. 2 spot with Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, possibly Jeremy Butler and one other (if the Ravens keep six Wide Receivers) rounding out the receiving corps. And, of course, the Tight Ends are “solid” with Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels.
The off-season personnel moves will certainly help the Ravens’ anemic Offense; however, the one missing ingredient that characterized the Ray Lewis led Ravens is “toughness.” Even when the Offense struggled to score points, as they did in 2000, they were still tough and gritty, running the ball “down their opponent’s throats’ knowing that the Defense “had their backs.” The offensive line played with a ferocity and “nastiness” that garnered “respect” throughout the league. Steve Smith Sr will help restore some of that “grit” but the team needs to establish an identity that reeks of toughness, “nastiness” and aggressiveness; and they need to do it now.
It is clear that The Baltimore Ravens are determined to get back to the formula that made them as feared as that bird on their helmets and as respected as any team in the league. No doubt they are “hungry” and are determined to be champions again. They have made a good start but they need to keep it going. If Ozzie and company can continue building as they have since January and Gary Kubiak can work his magic, the Ravens are surely in position to become a “top flight” Offense and a prime playoff contender.