Podcast Episode 32: The Ravens are AFC North champions

Welcome to Episode 32 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 revisit the Ravens 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns (4:40). As always, we tell you Who’s Trending (26:15) and go over some things to watch for in the Ravens upcoming Wild Card game against the Chargers (38:15).

In addition to the Ravens game, we gave a quick break down of the other three wild card games and some predictions for who we think will win (48:07). Be on the lookout for some more in depth articles on charmcitybirdwatch.com throughout the playoffs where all of our authors will give their official predictions as each round arrives.

Before getting into the weekly numbers segment (1:05:40) we had to take a moment to appreciate the Steelers meltdown following their elimination from playoff contention (57:40). Jake, Nolan, and Ian all give their opinion on the Antonio Brown situation and his heated exchange with Ben Roethlisberger.

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. Happy New Year and thanks for listening!

Image credit: Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Five key takeaways from Ravens 36-21 loss to Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens looked poised for a big afternoon after taking a 7-0 lead on their first possession of Sunday’s game in Charlotte but things quickly fell apart as Cam Newton led the Panthers to a 36-21 victory. Here are five key things I am focusing on following the Ravens’ fourth loss of the season

1. Running game can’t put together a complete game:

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ rushing attack has been lackluster all season. Alex Collins has failed to build upon his breakout 2017 campaign and the depth behind him is not providing much supplemental help.

Collins’struggles continued on Sunday when he fumbled at the beginning of the second quarter. Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love exploded through the offensive line with ease and leveled Collins for what appeared to be just a six-yard loss. Things took a quick turn for the worse when Collins juggled the ball after taking the hit and proceeded to cough it up. This marks the third time Collins has fumbled this season.

What’s frustrating is the fact that Collins was off to a solid start with 19 yards and a touchdown in the early goings. Collins ran the ball seven times after the fumble but I wouldn’t say the Ravens abandoned the run game in this one. It’s hard to keep going to a guy like Collins after a fumble but being down by three scores at the half doesn’t help either. Moving forward Buck Allen is going to need to be more involved in the run game. I don’t understand why but he has been called upon to run the ball just four times in the last three weeks.

2. Defense forced into tough situations:

The Ravens’ defense surrendered a season-high 36 points against the Panthers but the odds where not in their favor from start to finish as the Panthers found themselves starting with great field position on numerous drives.

Two Joe Flacco interceptions and the ugly fumble by Collins helped set up three short field scoring possessions for the Panthers. Overall it was a great afternoon for the Carolina offense as their average starting position was their own 37-yard line.

This still does not excuse the defense’s overall performance. Wink Martindale’s crew remained a top statistical defense even after last week’s game against New Orleans but the numbers were even worse in this one. The Ravens gave up a season-high 154 rushing yards and 386 total yards of offense. To give you some perspective, they have only given up more yards against the Browns (416) and that game featured an extra ten minutes of overtime.

3. Extended playing time for Lamar Jackson:

After the Panthers went up 36-14 late in the fourth quarter the Ravens opted to send Lamar Jackson out for the final offensive drive of the game. The rookie saw more playing time in the season opener against Buffalo but this week’s garbage time drive still showed us quite a bit. Jackson completed all four of his passes for 42 yards and capped off the two-minute drive with a touchdown pass to fellow rookie Hayden Hurst.

Prior to the final drive the Ravens were utilizing Jackson in the run game like they have most of this season. Jackson finished the afternoon with 26 rushing yards on three carries. His only mistake came in the first quarter when he failed to connect with a wide open Willie Snead on third and one.

4. Injury scare for Ronnie Stanley:

The Ravens have gotten pretty banged up over the past few weeks, especially on the offensive line. With Alex Lewis and James Hurst already inactive this week, everyone was holding their breath when Ronnie Stanley went down in the second half.

The Ravens’left tackle got rolled up by Flacco as he was in the process of falling to the ground. Flacco threw the ball away in an attempt to avoid the sack but he still came down hard on the back of the lineman’s legs. Stanley appeared to be in a lot of pain immediately following the play and had to be helped off the field.

Jermaine Eluemunor entered the game at left tackle after being called up from the practice squad earlier this week. Fortunately for the Ravens, Stanley was able to walk around the sideline after getting examined on the sideline and later returned to the game.

Right now the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, especially since Stanley returned to the game in garbage time, but the Ravens will need him at 100% moving forward. It goes without saying but the Ravens cannot afford anymore injuries on the offensive line. Their health was their strong suit early on this season but now that they have reached the midway point, it’s starting to get pretty shaky.

5. A look around the AFC North:

Morale was low following the heartbreaking loss to the Saints last week but at least the division standings didn’t change much with the Bengals and Browns both losing. This week there is no consolation for Ravens fans as the Steelers took down the Browns and the Bengals overcame a surprise Fitzmagic appearance for an overtime win.

Baltimore now finds themselves in third place with a record of 4-4. However, November will have a big impact on the way the division shakes out as the Ravens prepare to host both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the next three weeks.

Quick Hits:

Jake McDonnell’s postgame live stream:

Image credit: Mike McCarn / AP