Podcast Episode 17: Venting on the Ravens Thursday night loss to the Bengals

Welcome to episode 17 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

The show begins with a lengthy discussion on the Ravens week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals (3:50). Nolan, Jake, and Ian sift through all the things that went wrong for the Ravens, including the defense’s struggles, the offensive play calling, and the untimely penalties. As usual Joe Flacco is the center of focus following a loss but this time there is an actual debate to be had. Did Flacco actually have a bad game?

The Ravens loss was disappointing but at least we got to watch the Steelers and Browns lose in dramatic fashion on Sunday. The guys give their reactions to the way the division looks after two games before diving into all the sweet drama coming out of the Steelers organization (32:20).

The football talk concludes with the crew looking ahead to the Ravens week three matchup with the Broncos (39:25). Nolan, Jake, and Ian highlight their keys to the game and give score predictions.

The end of the 2018 Orioles season can’t come soon enough but we have to talk about them in the meantime (47:25). Nolan asks Jake and Ian if they think the O’s can get to 50 wins. Unsurprisingly the conversation spirals into frustration as Jake hopes he can see Adam Jones play in person one last time before his career in Baltimore is over.

The show concludes with the “what and idiot” and numbers segments. Last week Nolan had his problems with a utility company but now Jake has some venting to do after recently moving (52:20). There were a handful of players to highlight for the number 17 as well. Listen along and see if you can guess them with the crew (59:30).

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Five thoughts following the Ravens 34-23 loss in Cincinnati

The Ravens entered Cincinnati on Thursday night trying to keep their success rolling after a blowout win over Buffalo just four days prior. As expected, the Bengals proved to be a much tougher opponent and the Ravens looked unprepared early on.

Baltimore managed to erase most of the Bengals early 21-0 lead and make it a one possession game in the second half. However, in the end the Bengals would come out with a 34-23 win thanks to a pair of Ravens turnovers late in the game.

1. A tale of two halves

The Cincinnati Bengals came out strong in Thursday night’s game and took an early 21-0 lead thanks to a strong offensive attack and some Ravens struggles. A.J. Green presented a huge challenge for the Ravens secondary and they failed to answer the call as the Bengals No. 1 receiver hauled in the teams first three touchdowns and finished the night with five receptions for 69 yards.

To make things worse, the Ravens offense was sleep walking in the early goings and could not match Cincinnati’s start. Joe Flacco and company managed to get some momentum going before the half and cut the Bengals lead to 14 but the first half was certainly controlled by the home team.

The second half was a different story. The Bengals opened up with the ball but this time the Ravens defense had an answer. The Baltimore defense forced the Bengals to punt on their first four possessions of the second half. This gave the offense a chance to slowly crawl back into the game with a 55-yard field goal by Justin Tucker and an 87-yard drive, capped off by a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to John Brown.

The Ravens defense would end up surrendering just two field goals in the second half, giving Flacco and the offense a legitimate chance to come back. However, some costly turnovers would end up being to difference maker as Flacco threw a second interception and later fumbled with under three minutes to play in the game.

2. C.J Mosley injury

The Ravens defense took a huge hit in the first quarter when C.J. Mosley went down with a knee injury. The middle linebacker had to be carted off after tweaking his knee and everyone in the Ravens fan base collectively held their breath. The injury is currently being reported as a bone bruise which is significantly less detrimental than what many feared when they saw Mosley being carted into the locker room.

The injury did leave the Ravens shorthanded on defense for the majority of Thursdays game. Rookie Kenny Young had to step into a starting role alongside Patrick Onwuasor and performed pretty well after being forced into the spotlight. His presence was best felt while stopping the run but he did have issues cover some of the Bengals tight ends.

The timetable for Mosley is unknown right now but it might be safe to say that Young is going to be called upon to start in the coming weeks. The Ravens were shorthanded at the middle linebacker position coming into the season and losing Mosley is a worst case scenario.

3. Life without Jimmy Smith

Losing Mosley is rough on its own, but it makes things even worse for the next two weeks as the Ravens continue to wait for Jimmy Smith’s suspension to end. Smith’s presence could have certainly been used on Thursday as A.J. Green dominated the first half and helped put the Bengals up 21-0.

Green has given the Ravens plenty of trouble in the past, even with Smith on the field, but everyone knows that the defense fares much better when Smith is able to cover the opponents No. 1 receiver.

Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young all struggled to stop Green. They will have no time to rest though with the Broncos and Steelers on the horizon. Both Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown will pose a similar threat to the Ravens as Green. Don Martindale hasn’t been dealt the best hand with this Smith suspension and now the Mosley injury, but he will have to figure something out quickly if the Ravens want to avoid another outing like this one.

4. Offensive play calling

The Ravens had to dig themselves out of a hole after the Bengals hot start but after they made it a close game in the second half, the offensive play calling was still unbalanced. Marty Mornhinweg continued to call passing plays and ignore the run game despite both Alex Collins finding some success on the ground. Collins was only given nine carries but dazzled in a handful of them by breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards. I know the Ravens want to mix things up with Collins and Buck Allen but your starting running back needs to carry the ball more than nine times, even if he is involved with the pass game.

My main gripe is with the momentum though. In the second half the Ravens were putting together good drives with short, quick passes and some well designed runs. However, just when things started to get going, the momentum was halted by either bringing Lamar Jackson in or calling on Flacco to air it out.

I saw the team find a good amount of success by being patient and slowly chipping away at the Bengals defense. I just don’t understand why the coaching staff would call these plays in such a pivotal point in the game. It led to at least one of the second half  turnovers as Flacco got picked off while trying to go deep late in the third quarter.

5. Early standings implications

After Thursday the Bengals are the current leaders in the AFC north with a 2-0 record. With the Steelers and Browns tying in week one, the Bengals should be happy with their status this early in the year. They were pushed to the side all offseason as pundits focused on the Ravens and Steelers, but Cincinnati has the upper hand after a pair of nice wins to start their season.

The Ravens will have plenty of chances to make waves in the division standings early this season as they prepare to play road games against both Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the next three weeks.

Image credit: Sam Greene

Ravens to retain all three coordinators, including Marty Mornhinweg

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.

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Mornhinweg, then the Ravens’ quarterbacks coach, watches Flacco during a training camp practice. Credit: Baltimore Sun.

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.

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Harbaugh and Mornhinweg stand together on the sideline during the Ravens’ week six game against the Giants. Credit: WNST.

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.