Podcast Episode 33: Where do the Ravens go from here? 105.7 The Fan’s Ken Weinman weighs in

Welcome to Episode 33 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Following the Ravens 23-17 Wild Card loss to the Chargers, Jake, Nolan, and Ian dive right into what went wrong for Baltimore (4:51). After the guys are done reacting to the game, they discuss who’s trending going into the offseason as well as what the Ravens need to do over the spring/summer to return to the playoffs next season (27:22).

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest, 105.7 The Fan host Ken Weinman (54:16). We’ll get Ken’s thoughts on where the Ravens stand after their playoff exit, the NFL Divisional round, and the Orioles hiring of Koby Perez, who will head the club’s international scouting department.

Following Jake’s interview with Ken, Nolan and Ian hop back on to reveal their picks for this weekend’s divisional playoff games (1:12:08). The crew also spends a few minutes talking Terps hoops (1:24:49) following Maryland’s two wins over Nebraska and Rutgers from last week.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 33 (1:29:09).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thanks for listening!

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 


Three thoughts following the Ravens 23-17 Wild Card loss to the Chargers

One week after clinching their first AFC North championship in six years and their first playoff appearance in three years, the 2018 Ravens season is suddenly over. 

1. Offensive line: What was that?

Without question, the Ravens offensive line performed the worst out of anybody against the Chargers. They got dominated. It was so bad that starting left guard James Hurst was pulled around halftime for rookie offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman. Ronnie Stanley got flagged twice for dumb penalties. The Chargers sacked Lamar Jackson seven times and hit him nine other times. Los Angeles finished the game with nine tackles-for-loss.

Simply put, the Chargers front seven had their way with the Ravens offensive line until midway through the fourth quarter when the Ravens scored two garbage time touchdowns off the hands of Michael Crabtree.

In Jackson’s seven regular season starts, the Ravens finished with below 200 rushing yards just twice – 194 yards against the Chiefs in week 14 and 159 yards against L.A. in week 16. On Sunday, the Chargers defense limited the Ravens to 90 yards on the ground, their fifth-lowest total of the season. Jackson led the Ravens with 54 yards on nine carries, while the duo of Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards combined for 36 yards on 14 carries between them.

John Harbaugh, Marty Mornhinweg, Greg Roman, and the Ravens offensive coaches deserve a lot of credit for what they did with Baltimore’s running game throughout the season. Credit should also be given to the offensive linemen for going from one of the worst running offenses in the NFL to arguably the best. However, the Ravens’ offensive line lacks physicality. Stanley and Orlando Brown are space-eaters that can get by with their size, but neither of them can match up with the top pass rushers in the NFL. Hurst is a glorified backup that knows the playbook well but has been known to get obliterated by physical defenders. Much of the same can be said for Matt Skura.

Offensive line should be one of the positions the Ravens heavily monitor through free agency and the draft this offseason. It’s unknown whether Marhsal Yanda will retire or not. Alex Lewis can’t stay on the field and his limited play this season left a lot to be desired. Skura isn’t a true center. He was forced into that role after Ryan Jensen‘s departure because the Ravens had no other options. Jackson already takes more hits than most quarterbacks, and the Ravens need to do a better job of protecting him. No matter who the quarterback was this season – Jackson or Joe Flacco – pass protection was always a weakness.

2. Even though we knew Joe Flacco’s time was up, John Harbaugh’s decision to not play him leaves a sour taste in our mouths 

Even before Mike Badgley‘s 47-yard field goal that put the Chargers up 23-3 with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter, fans at M&T Bank Stadium were booing Jackson and calling for Flacco to enter the game. A big chunk of blame should fall on the shoulders of the offensive line, but Jackson missed several throws and put the ball on the ground multiple times in the first half. With no running game whatsoever and little time to make throws in the pocket, Jackson looked flustered on the playoff stage.

At one point, the Chargers had sacked Jackson more times than the rookie quarterback had completions. Not all of the blame should be placed on Jackson for how mightily he struggled on Sunday, almost every quarterback in the NFL wouldn’t have been able to do anything with the amount of pressure thrown on Jackson during Sunday’s game. Quarterbacks, particularly rookie quarterbacks, can get flustered in the playoffs. Look at what happened to Deshaun Watson in Houston yesterday. Being flustered is not an excuse for putting the ball on the ground, but the offensive line gave Jackson no help in his first playoff start.

Jackson and the offense came through late and scored two touchdowns in just under five minutes, but Harbaugh not giving Flacco a chance to throw the Ravens back into the game brought back memories of Buck Showalter not bringing in Zach Britton during the 2016 Wild Card game between the Orioles and the Blue Jays. I understand the viewpoint of not taking Jackson out because he’s the future of the franchise and Harbaugh didn’t want to hurt his confidence. But the Ravens have a former Super Bowl MVP quarterback on their bench and they had no inclination of putting him in down three scores in a playoff game. That’s awfully stubborn.

After the game, Harbaugh said what we’ve already known for weeks, and that’s that Jackson is the Ravens starting quarterback going forward.

Even with the Ravens confirming that Flacco won’t be a Raven next season, Baltimore was playing their first playoff game in three years. It’s do-or-die. If you’re lucky enough to have a quarterback of Flacco’s caliber healthy on the bench and you’re down 20 points, why not go to that guy who can throw much better than Jackson a chance?

The writing was on the wall in April and the shift from Jackson to Flacco was implemented in week 11, but the ending of the Flacco era ended in Baltimore is sure to leave a sour taste in a lot of fans’ mouths.

3. Even with Jackson cemented into the Ravens plans, the future of the Ravens franchise looks uncertain 

It didn’t take long for reporters to ask Harbaugh about his future following Sunday’s loss. Even with the Ravens announcing their intent to give Harbaugh a contract extension a few weeks ago, stories have been popping up left and right about teams wanting to inquire about attaining Harbaugh, specifically through a trade. As expected, Harbaugh expressed his desire to remain with the Ravens going forward, and he said he believes that the Ravens do want him back as their head coach going forward.

Both Harbaugh and the Ravens have said the right things, but the fact is Harbaugh’s contract expires after the 2019 season. You won’t hear it out of Harbaugh’s mouth, but the belief is that Harbaugh is seeking a long-term contract that includes some sort of control over his team. It’s unknown if the Ravens would be willing to award Harbaugh that responsibility, especially with Eric DeCosta taking over for Ozzie Newsome as the team’s general manager, which opens up a whole other discussion.

It will be very interesting to see how Harbaugh works this out with the Ravens while the team undergoes a massive change in the front office. There’s also questions on the coaching staff, particularly involving Mornhinwerg. Harbaugh and Mornhinweg have spent years together with both the Ravens and the Eagles. Even though Mornhinweg’s play-calling is questioned after what seems like every game, no one knows whether or not letting go of Mornhinweg could fly with Harbaugh, even with Greg Roman waiting in the wings as a possible replacement.

Along with the questions involving the front office and the coaching staff, no one can be sold on if Jackson is capable on being a franchise quarterback. Jackson deserves all the credit in the world for going 6-1 in the regular season and helping the Ravens to their first AFC North title since 2012. But his play style and struggles as a passer leave many people skeptical. There have been a group of quarterbacks like Jackson who found short-term success in the NFL, but very few of them sign a second contract and last a decade in the league. That’s a scary thought as the Ravens prepare for life without Flacco, the best quarterback in the history of the Ravens.

There are a number of veterans on the Ravens roster who might not be on the roster next season. After 16 seasons with the Ravens, Terrell Suggs (36), is a free agent. Suggs said after the game that he wants to play next season, whether that’s with the Ravens or not. The Ravens will likely need some new pass-catchers with Crabtree possibly getting released and John Brown likely signing elsewhere. Eric Weddle turned 34 a few days ago and wouldn’t confirm his plans on playing in 2019. Jimmy Smith will probably fall victim to the salary cap, and the Ravens could also lose their leader in the middle of the defense, C.J. Mosley, who enters free agency. Along with Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban will hit the market as unrestricted free agents.

In 2019, the Ravens need to help Jackson with an improved offensive line and play-makers at running back and wide receiver. They will likely need to replace a few leaders on their #1 defense at edge rusher, safety, and middle linebacker. These types of holes haven’t always been filled adequately in recent memory, and no one knows if DeCosta will change the Ravens approach to these matters.

Despite how great it felt for the Ravens to be playoff game again, Baltimore’s postseason run ended abruptly, marking the first time in the Harbaugh era that the Ravens exited the playoffs in the first round. Now, all focus shifts to the offseason that could be different than any offseason Ravens fans have seen before with DeCosta taking over.

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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

Three takeaways following the Ravens playoff-clinching 26-24 win over the Browns

With Sunday’s win, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth for the first time in three years and their first AFC North championship in six years.

#1: Ravens ride rushing attack and rack up season’s highest total

No one needed a reminder that the Ravens were going to stick with what’s been working with the Lamar Jackson offense, and that was the running game. Needing a win to host a home playoff game, the Ravens ran the football 47 times and finished with 296 yards. That marks the Ravens’ highest rushing total this season and the third-best single-game rushing total in franchise history, according to Patrick Gleason.

Kenneth Dixon led the way on the ground, finishing with a career-high 117 yards on 12 carries. It’s the first time in his career finishing with over 100 yards rushing in a game. Jackson racked up 90 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Jackson’s rushing scores came from 25 and eight yards out. If it had not been for a bogus holding call on Maxx Williams, Jackson would have added a 33-yard touchdown that would have put the Ravens ahead 27-14. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.

Here’s another look at Williams’ “holding” penalty that negated a Ravens touchdown:

Gus Edwards followed Jackson with 76 yards on 12 carries, and Ty Montgomery totaled 13 yards on two carries. All elements of the Ravens’ running attack had success against Cleveland’s 28th-ranked run defense, as Baltimore picked up 16-of-24 first downs on the ground.

#2: Oft-criticized defenders finally come up with turnovers

The Ravens defense has been dominant all season. Baltimore exits of week 17 with the NFL’s top-ranked defense, finishing first in yards given up (4,687), fourth in run defense (1,327 yards given up) and fifth in pass defense (3,360 yards given up).

Even with all of their success, defensive turnovers have eluded the Ravens until recently. The Ravens defense tied for 22nd this season with 17 takeaways. Two veteran players on this defensive unit – linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith – went into week 17 without any turnovers on their stat line.

Smith drew harsh criticism from fans early in the season when he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Upon returning to the field in week 5, it took more than a month for Smith to return to his form due to recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in December 2017. With Smith struggling, Marlon Humphrey stepped up and emerged as the Ravens’ top cornerback, but week 17 told a different story.

While Humphrey struggled in coverage on Sunday, Smith picked off Baker Mayfield twice. Smith’s first interception occurred during Cleveland’s first possession when Mayfield attempted a pass to Antonio Callaway on 2nd-and-5. The latter came with just over four minutes left in the half off a deflection by Tavon Young on a pass intended for Rashard Higgins. The officials initially ruled the pass incomplete, but Smith got up and immediately signaled to head coach John Harbaugh to challenge the play.

After a booth review, the call was overturned. The Ravens opened the scoring with a field goal following Smith’s first interception, but after Smith’s second interception the Ravens gave the ball up when Jackson fumbled on the goal line. Obviously the Ravens need to do a better job of translating turnovers into points, but Smith chose a great time to put together his best performance of 2018.

In regards to Mosley, fans and media alike have pointed to pass coverage being the fifth-year linebacker’s biggest flaw. Defending the middle of the field, specifically tight ends, has plagued the Ravens defense in recent seasons. In a contract year, Mosley leads the defense with 105 total tackles, but he also failed to record a single turnover until yesterday.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 with about two minutes to play in Baltimore, the Ravens, holding a two-point lead, went three-and-out on offense and punted the ball to the Browns with 1:49 left in regulation. The Ravens now had to stop the Browns from scoring on this drive to punch their ticket to the postseason. You didn’t need to remind anyone of what happened in the final minutes of last year’s New Years Eve defeat to Cincinnati. Everyone was already biting their nails thinking about it.

Mayfield and the Browns reached the Ravens’ 39-yard line following two completions of 16 yards or more to Jarvis Landry and former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman. After forcing three straight incompletions, it was fourth down and the pressure was on the Ravens defense.

Last year on 4th-and-12 Baltimore had their hearts broken when Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd connected for a 49-yard touchdown with less than a minute left on the clock. This time on fourth down, Mayfield tried to throw a pass as Humphrey and a number of Ravens defenders crept into the backfield. The ball, intended for Duke Johnson, was tipped and intercepted by Mosley with 1:01 left on the clock.

With Cleveland only having one timeout left, the Ravens simply kneeled down twice to put the game away for good.

“All of people on social media saying I can’t cover, I won’t say too much about them, people are going to talk,” Mosley said at the podium after the game. “They get it now, we’re in there.”

#3: The Flock finally comes through

On a personal level, perhaps the best part about Sunday’s playoff-clinching win was seeing how full and loud M&T Bank Stadium was. A number of factors have led to a concerning amount of empty seats at NFL football games, and the Ravens are one of many teams around the league facing this issue. Two weeks after huge patches of empty seats were visible against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens fans filled the stadium and were loud throughout the game.

The announced attendance is about 1,000 less than M&T Bank Stadium’s capacity. From what I saw sitting at the game, there were still some empty seats visible, but not nearly the amount that it’s been lately. I would say that the stadium was about 92% full. Considering the implications of the game and from how the Ravens have struggled to get people in seats lately, the franchise should be very happy with the turnout.

Because of the in-home experience of watching NFL football, the weather, the knee, technology taking over people’s lives, safety concerns, the cost of parking/transportation/food/drinks, bad officiating, fantasy football, and other factors, attendance for the Ravens and the NFL will continue to be an uphill battle. Not making the playoffs three years in a row certainly hurt the Ravens too, but now they’re back in the race with a weapon in Jackson that the Ravens have not had in years.

Without question, M&T Bank Stadium should be full and raucous next Sunday at 1:05 pm for the Ravens Wild Card matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, who the Ravens of course defeated less than two weeks ago in Carson California. I would imagine that a lot of fans in attendance for yesterday’s fun will definitely be looking into purchasing tickets, as well as a number of fans who couldn’t make it to the game yesterday. Last week, several Ravens players expressed their desire for a full stadium on social media. I think the players thrive on the crowd, and they’ll definitely need The Flock to bring the noise again next Sunday against the Chargers.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun