At a press conference held on Tuesday at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh reflected on the 2016 season.
One of the announcements Harbaugh made on Tuesday was that the Ravens will be retaining all three of their coordinators next season – special teams coordinator and assistant coach Jerry Rosburg, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
While the returns of Rosburg and Pees were expected, the decision to bring back Mornhinweg is a bit shocking. Mornhinweg took over as the offensive coordinator after the Ravens fired Marc Trestman five weeks into the season. The Ravens let go of Trestman for a number of reasons, but one of the issues the team had on offense was abandoning the run game. The Ravens were hoping Mornhinweg could find a way to balance out the play-calling, but that did not happen. The Ravens ran a total of 1,046 offensive plays in 2016 and threw the ball 64% of the time and ran the ball in just 36% of their plays. That is not balanced.
For the first time in his career, quarterback Joe Flacco finished with over 4,000 passing yards with 4,317. However, he attempted 672 passes, a career-high that absolutely shattered his previous high of 614 attempts in the 2013 season. Flacco threw that ball more than 50 times in two games this season, and had 40 or more attempts in 11 games. Even though he was throwing the ball more than ever in his nine-year career, his yards-per-completion average was just 6.42, which is his second career-worst mark.
The Ravens failed to find a balance in their offense the entire season, and it hurt both Flacco and the run game. The Ravens had a 100-yard rusher just one time this season, when Terrance West ran for 113 yards in the week four game against the Raiders. West and rookie Kenneth Dixon both showed flashes of being explosive backs who could break tackles, but neither were given a true chance to show what they could do. In his best years, Flacco has had a stellar running game to support him, but that was not the case in 2016 when the Ravens simply did not want to run the ball for whatever reason.
With there being such a big reliance on the passing game, there were a number of times where the Ravens made some questionable decisions to throw the ball in clear running situations. A prime example of this was in Baltimore’s week 15 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens had a 10-point lead with six minutes to play in the game, and had the ball on Philly’s 11-yard line. On a 2nd-and-1 play, Mornhinweg called a pass play that resulted in Flacco throwing an interception that led to an Eagles field goal. The Eagles ended up scoring a touchdown on their next drive, and if they had converted a two-point conversion, they would have had a one-point lead with just seconds to go in the game. The cal by Mornhinweg to throw the ball in that situation, and then Harbaugh and Flacco’s decision to go through with that play, almost costed the Ravens their season.
After the game, Harbaugh called that play the “all-time worst call ever.”
Another head-scratcher happened just a few days ago when the Ravens lost to the Bengals in their final game of the season. On a third-and-two play with three minutes to go in the third quarter, the Ravens were in the Bengals’ red zone. The offense ran a play where Flacco ended up throwing the ball to Alex Lewis, an offensive lineman. Lewis caught the ball well short of the first-down marker and was immediately tackled, dropping the ball. The Ravens went for it on fourth down, and did not convert. This game against Cincinnati was meaningless, but it just goes to show how confusing and quite frankly absurd the Ravens’ play-calling has been all season by both Trestman and Mornhinweg.
In all honesty, what I believe this all comes down to is that the Ravens have simply been through too many offensive coordinators in recent years to afford introducing Flacco and the offense to a new system. Dating back to late in the 2012 season, the Ravens have had five offensive coordinators – Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell, Gary Kubiak, Trestman and Mornhinweg. Going through five coordinators in as many years cannot be easy for any NFL quarterback, and part of me believes that Flacco simply did not want another change in the play-calling.
Bringing Mornhinweg back is a huge decision for both Harbaugh and the Ravens. Baltimore has not made the playoffs in three out of the past four seasons, and many believe that Harbaugh’s seat is starting to get warm. With how broken the #17th ranked offense looked this season, I find it very shocking that Mornhinweg will continue to call plays next year. If the same problems persist next season (abandonment of the run, a failure to push the ball down the field, dumb play calls) continue, I doubt that Harbaugh won’t survive, especially if the Ravens go 8-8 or worse in 2017.
There is a lot to be done for the Ravens this offseason if they plan on making the playoffs next season. It is no question that the offense was the team’s weakest unit this season. There might be holes on the offensive line to fill with the possible departure of tackle Rick Wagner. Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. is retiring and Kamar Aiken ended the season frustrated with his role in the offense (Aiken will be hitting the free agent market in march). With these positions possibly needing to be addressed, there will be a number of moves to be made for the Ravens to improve on offense going forward.
Entering the 2016 season, a lot of people said that on paper the Ravens had the most talented offense in team history. The offense’s failures this season were really telling of what needs to happen for this team to be successful in 2017 and beyond, which is why I find the decision to bring Mornhinweg back very shocking.