Why are the Ravens so dang mediocre?

With Sunday’s 23-16 loss to their AFC North rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens are 44-45 since hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 3, 2013 at the Mereces Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Everyone has their theories on why the team has been trudging along in mediocrity since that glorious triumph. It’s clearly the coaching:

And if it’s not the head coaches, it’s definitely the coordinators:

Furthermore it has to be Joe Flacco that is to blame right?

None of these are incorrect in full. All of these things play a key part in the Ravens inability to escape mediocrity. It’s obvious that if the Ravens miss the playoffs this year as they currently are on pace to do, someone is going to take the fall for this at the end of the year. It is even possible that one of these dominoes fall at some point during the season.

But the real reason that the Ravens are mediocre is that they simply don’t have any consistent difference makers on their roster. I am defining a difference maker as someone who other NFL GM’s and coaches would want on their teams to upgrade their current rosters. I have been asking fans to name the top three guys on the Ravens that other teams would want for their rosters. The first name out of nearly everyone’s mouth is a freaking kicker.

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Justin Tucker is the Ravens best player. That’s a huge problem. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

After that it gets hazy. Some I have spoken with have said Marshal Yanda, a 34-year-old offensive guard in the twilight of his career. C.J. Mosley has been another popular choice. Mosley is a solid run stuffing middle linebacker but is a liability in pass coverage. Maybe you prefer Jimmy Smith as a member of this list. He has flashed shutdown corner potential in the past but has been struggling throughout most of this season.

Maybe Brandon Williams is your cup of tea but a run stuffing nose tackle doesn’t get you far in the 2018 NFL. John Brown has come up on a few lists when soliciting feedback as well. Brown is having a great first season with the Ravens. No doubt about that. However unless Flacco connects with Brown for a deep ball, he is relatively ineffective in full. Terrell Suggs? A 36-year-old former monster with his best years way behind him. Marlon Humphrey has also been floated around. His age and potential make him a viable candidate for the future, but this is about the right now. My list is Tucker, Brown, and Smith for what it’s worth.

There could be a few others that you throw hats into the ring for, but the bottom line remains that when you look at the current playoff teams in the league, their lists put the Ravens to shame. Some of these teams even have players left out of their list who would be the #1 guy on the Ravens list.

New Orleans: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Drew Brees. NEXT

Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner. This excludes players like Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, and LeVeon Bell.

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs

If Kareem Hunt is your fourth best difference making player, you’re not hurting for talent. Image Credit: Getty Images

Kansas City: Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce. Kareem Hunt is probably fourth. Holy Talent Batman.

Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Philip Rivers. That Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa ain’t too shabby either.

Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff. Child Please.

New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman. There’s some debate for the third guy but the first one is the GOAT and the second one might be.

Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, DeShaun Watson, J.J Watt. Advantage Texans.

Cincinnati Bengals: AJ Green, Joe Mixon, Carlos Dunlap. Ravens may be deeper than Cincy, but in terms of difference makers it’s not close.

Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Luke Kuechly

It can be argued that the Ravens may have comparable lists to the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears. It is important to note however that Adrian Peterson (though 100) and Khalil Mack are currently greater playmakers than any that the Ravens possess.

Joe-Flacco

Joe Flacco is undoubtedly part of the problem with the Ravens. But he isn’t the main one. Image Credit: Wikipedia

So a team that has no difference making talent is 4-5. What is surprising about this? They were able to beat up on the Bills, Broncos, and Titans who are all terrible. Two of those teams in the Bills and Titans are actually less talented than the Ravens in regards to difference making players. The Ravens somehow put that Steelers performance in Pittsburgh together, so good on them for that, but they have struggled with the Bengals, Saints, and Panthers who are all in the playoffs currently.

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Michael Crabtree’s drop in Cleveland could come back to doom the Ravens. Image Credit: ESPN

The loss to the Browns furthers the point. At no point in the listing of players for the Ravens did any Ravens fan on any platform say Michael Crabtree. As bad as the Ravens were in Cleveland that day, they were in position to win the game when Flacco hit Crabtree in the back of the end zone for what would have been the go ahead score with 52 seconds remaining. He drops it, the Ravens settle for three and fall in overtime.

Perhaps if the Ravens had elite offensive and defensive coordinators they could scheme up better things to help assist their overall lack of talent. Could Sean McVay make the Ravens offense better? Probably. How much better? Not sure. Gurley and Goff aren’t coming along with him.

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Wink Martindale is not blameless in all of this but when your best pass rusher is 36 years old, you’re asking a lot. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Maybe you think Wade Phillips would help the Ravens defense. The Rams, with significantly more talent, currently rank below the Ravens defense in nearly every statistical category. Is he improving the Ravens defense? Methinks not.

Is it frustrating that Harbaugh is a former special teams coach and doesn’t truly specialize on one side of the ball or other? Of course it is. But looking back at the talent this team had since the Super Bowl, I’d argue that the Ravens have gotten significantly more from their seasons than their talent would indicate they should’ve.

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Matt Elam is one of many recent Ravens draft busts. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Look at the first five rounds from each of the drafts from 2009 to 2016. If you were grading them here’s how it would look:

2009- Michael Oher, Paul Kruger, Lardarius Webb, Jason Phillips, Davon Drew: C-

2010- Sergio Kindle, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, David Reed, Arthur Jones:D-

2011- Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith, Jah Reid, Tandon Doss, Chykie Brown, Pernell McPhee: B

2012- Courney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce, Gino Gradkowski, Christian Thompson, Asa Jackson: C-

2013- Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, John Simon, Kyle Juszczyk, Ricky Wagner: D-

2014- C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, Terrence Brooks, Crockett Gilmore, Brent Urban, Lorenzo Taliaferro, John Urschel: C-

2015- Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, Carl Davis, Za’Darius Smith, Javorius Allen, Tray Walker, Nick Boyle, Robert Myers: F

2016- Ronnie Stanley, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tavon Young, Chris Moore, Alex Lewis, Willie Henry, Kenneth Dixon, Matt Judon: B

Those types of grades get you grounded. Moreover, very few, if any, of the players that failed to be successful with the Ravens have gone on to be successful elsewhere. That is a testament to poor scouting.

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Eric Weddle is one of many veteran stop gaps that have brought in to correct the Ravens drafting errors. Image Credit: 12UP

These draft pick misses have led to many free agent moves in recent seasons. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are here because the Ravens couldn’t draft a safety. Brown, Crabtree, and Willie Snead are here because of the issues drafting receivers. The same could be said for Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin from last season’s cast of over the hill veterans.

Elite level talent in the NFL is rarely acquired via free agency. The way to secure elite level talent is to draft it, develop it, and sign it long term. That is why the teams that are often scraping the free agent pile rarely prove to be the most successful. These players are available for a reason.

This isn’t rocket science guys. Sure there is plenty of blame to go around between Harbaugh, Flacco, and the coordinators. These are your obvious scapegoats. But at the end of the day, the Ravens are mediocre because they weren’t built to be anything more than that.

Image Credit: The Baltimore Sun

 

 

 

 

 

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Three things to watch for as the Ravens welcome the Steelers to Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens are looking to snap a two-game losing streak this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when they welcome their AFC North rival – the Pittsburgh Steelers – to town in a colossal divisional contest.

The Ravens’ season appears to be at a crossroads as they sit at 4-4 after dropping three of their last four games. Last week’s loss was perhaps the most frustrating, a 36-21 setback against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

The Ravens started off well once again with an impressive drive to open the game capped off with an Alex Collins 14-yard touchdown run. The Ravens’ defense forces a punt on the first Carolina drive of the day but the Panthers downed the punt at the Baltimore one-yard line.

An inexplicably poor pass from Lamar Jackson to Willie Snead on third-and-one forced the Ravens to punt. Coach Harbaugh deployed a fake punt from his own 10-yard line but it was called back due to an illegal shift, a call that befuddled the Ravens.

It all fell apart from there. The Panthers would score touchdowns on their next three drives of the first half before adding in a field goal as the half expired after an atrocious interception from Joe Flacco that put the Ravens behind 24-7. The Ravens committed three turnovers in all with Flacco adding a second interception and Collins again fumbling.

Flacco did throw a second half touchdown to rookie tight end Mark Andrews to cut the lead to 27-14 late in the third quarter but the Panthers responded with nine play, 85-yard touchdown drive to put the game away. Jackson added a garbage time touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst to make the final score 36-21.

So the Ravens sit at 4-4 ahead of what will be a month-long home stand that will kick off against the Steelers this Sunday. Here’s what to watch for ahead of the matchup.

1) What does the offensive line look like this Sunday?

Heading into this week against the Steelers, the offensive line could potentially be without three of their five starters. Alex Lewis and James Hurst have each missed the last two games due to injury and the offensive line has struggled in both contests.

To add to the issues for the Ravens, last week reserve offensive linemen Bradley Bozeman was unavailable as well against the Panthers forcing Hroniss Grasu into the starting lineup. Grasu struggled throughout the contest and looked to be the culprit of a missed block that led to the Collins fumble.

Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the game as well on Sunday but would return. At one point the Ravens had an offensive line of Jermaine Eluemunor, Grassu, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, and Orlando Brown Jr from left to right. The Panthers were living in the backfield all day.

Keep an eye on the status of Stanley, Lewis, Hurst and Bozeman throughout the week as the Steelers rank tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks on the season. They are led by second-year standout T.J. Watt who has seven sacks on the season. Bud Dupree, though much maligned at times, was extremely disruptive last week against the Browns despite not registering a sack.

All four linemen missed practice on Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see if any of them can make it back on the practice field Thursday or Friday ahead of Sunday’s match up.

If the Ravens offensive line isn’t healthy (healthier) this week, it could be another long week for Flacco.

2) How does the Ravens defense respond to adversity?

Does everyone remember all of the talk from two weeks ago about this being the best defense in the NFL?

The Ravens were fresh off a dominant 21-0 performance against the Tennessee Titans and had just broken the team record for sacks in a game with 11. They still had not given up a touchdown in the second half and they looked to have the swagger of the Ravens defenses of old even through the end of the third quarter of the next contest against the Saints.

And then the fourth quarter against the Saints happened but we walked away not feeling totally defeated about holding the Saints offense to 24 points albeit 17 of them came in the fourth quarter.

But last week was rock bottom for this unit. They had no answers for anything that Cam Newton and the Panthers offense threw at them. They finished the game with no sacks and very few hurries. Newton left the pocket because he wanted to, not because he was forced out. The Ravens will be looking to get their groove back this week. Jimmy Smith remains confident:

Smith is one of the many looking to rebound from a rough two weeks. The Ravens have just one sack since the Tennessee game and if you remove the 11-sack game from their numbers and replace it with their season average of two sacks per game, that would give them 18 sacks on the year ranking them tied for 21st.

This unit is not 2000 Ravens good as some suggested they could be after the first six weeks of the year. They don’t have to be. But they certainly need to play significantly better than they have in the past five quarters where they have surrendered 53 points. Keep in mind they had surrendered just 84 points in the previous 28 quarters combined.

The Steelers, as usual, aren’t lacking for weapons. We all know what Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster can do to opposing defenses. Add in James Conner who is performing at a top five level and tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James and this could prove to be another tough week for the defense.

Hey Mr. Leader of the defense remember this?

Your fan base says prove it:

3) Can the offense gain consistent traction?

The defense isn’t alone. The Ravens offense has been a here today and gone tomorrow kind of unit all season. While the pieces are there at the skill positions to become a more potent offense, untimely drops and inconsistent quarterback play coupled with offensive line injuries and turnovers have rendered the Ravens incapable of consistency.

This is telling. These are key drops too. Michael Crabtree dropped a potential game winning touchdown pass (and seemingly everything else that week) in Cleveland. Snead has had numerous costly drops on third and fourth down. Hurst has pitched in on the drop party on a consistent basis as well. The skill position players are better but it has been more of the same so far for the Ravens.

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While his weapons have let him down at times, Joe Flacco hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. Image Credit: Youtube

Flacco is not blameless either. While he has been putting together a decent season statistically (8th in the NFL in yards) he has had his fair share of clunkers. He has interceptions in three of the last four games including an absolutely horrid one near the end of the first half Sunday. His passer rating of 84.9 ranks 25th in the NFL.

We have discussed the troubles along the offensive line. Health can solve many of those struggles, but the running game struggled even when the offensive line was at full strength.

The Steelers enter the game with the NFL’s 15th-ranked total defense. They are 24th against the pass but rank sixth against the run. This may not be the week where the Ravens can look to run the ball effectively.

John Brown was effective in the Ravens 26-14 victory over Pittsburgh in September. Look for him to be the catalyst for the Ravens if they emerge victorious.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell- Steelers 27 Ravens 21

Jay Stavros- Steelers 31 Ravens 24

Nolan McGraw- Ravens 24 Steelers 20

Ian Schultz- Steelers 29 Ravens 23

Nolan has been right way more than the rest of us so let’s hope that trend continues. As far as my pick, I can’t see the Ravens with a depleted offensive line and a defense that is likely to be without Marlon Humphrey able to keep pace with the Steelers. The Ravens will keep it close throughout much of the contest but Pittsburgh prevails late sending the Ravens to the bye week at 4-5.

The Details:

  • When: Sunday, November 4, 2018, 1:00pm
  • Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
  • Point Spread: Ravens -3,  O/U 47
  • Radio: 98 Rock/WBAL 1090 AM
  • TV: CBS
  • Commentary:  Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

Image Credit: AP

Podcast Episode 23: Ravens entering crisis mode, Maryland admin creates crisis at College Park

Image Credit: Boston Globe

Welcome to Episode 23 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of the show, we dive into the Ravens’ 36-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers (4:12). Ian goes to therapy to vent over Ravens fans already calling for the heads of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. With the Ravens sitting at 4-4 halfway through the schedule, you’ll hear a lot of midseason assessments and assumptions on what the Ravens will do if they find themselves out of contention before the end of the season.

Also on the Ravens front, we react to the Ty Montgomery trade (24:58), go over Who’s Trending (27:21) and discuss some things to watch for on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (33:10) in what’s being called a ‘must win’ game.

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest, Bruce Posner of Terp Talk and CBS AM-1300 Baltimore (40:08). This interview was recorded hours before the University of Maryland Board of Regents announced that football head coach DJ Durkin will return as head coach following his May 29-led practice that left 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair dead from heat stroke. At the time of the interview we had no inclination of what would happen, but Posner had an itch that something was coming.

Following Bruce’s call-in, the guys react to Durkin’s reinstatement (1:02:15). This is a horrible look for the University and the state of Maryland, and it will hurt the school for years to come. The facts are still coming, the backlash has begun, and one thing is certain – this topic isn’t going away anytime soon.

Of course, we had to talk about the results of the World Series that saw Steve Pearce win MVP and left Manny Machado in an unimpressive 4-for-22 slump before he hits free agency (1:09:49). Hear the guys’ thoughts following the Boston Red Sox’ 4-1 series rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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 23 (1:15:54).

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

The Charm City Bird Watch Podcast is brought to you by Seven Sports Bar & Grille. For a limited time only on behalf on Charm City Bird Watch, you can receive a 10% discount off any entree dish when you tell your server or bartender the promo code ‘Charm City.’