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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Five thoughts from Ravens frustrating 12-9 loss in Cleveland

After picking up their biggest win of the season this past Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens played their ugliest game of the season in Cleveland and lost to the Browns for the first time since 2015.

A lot if crazy and questionable stuff happened leading up the Browns’ 12-9 win, but here are my five key takeaways.

1. Worst game of the year for Ravens offense

There was nothing good about the offense’s performance on Sunday and it all starts with Joe Flacco. The veteran quarterback threw the ball 56 times and failed to reach the 300-yard threshold. Throw in an ugly interception and it was easily the worst game of the year for Flacco. I don’t care if the interception was tipped by a defender. The ball should have never been thrown in the first place since Flacco’s intended target was double covered.

While Flacco did not have his best game, the blame is not entirely on him. The rest of the offense was just as unreliable, resulting in an ugly afternoon all around. Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions and receiving yards but those are deceptive stats considering he also dropped three catchable passes, including the potential game-winner late in the fourth quarter.

I also have to regretfully call out the run game. Alex Collins excited us early on by picking up 42 yards on his first six carries but he quickly became less involved in the game. Even when he did see action Collins was not very productive, picking up just 17 yards on his final six carries. To make things worse, Buck Allen was not on his game either. Allen finished the game with 34 yards and had a crucial fumble that stifled the Ravens first drive of the second half.

2. Third down efficiency one of many issues for offense

Coming into Sunday’s game the Ravens offense had done a good job of converting in third down situations with a 46% success rate (29/63) on the season. That changed pretty quickly this week when the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down in the first half. Baltimore would end up finishing the game 4-for-16 on third down.

3. Pass rush gets more involved

The Ravens defense found a lot of success last week against Pittsburgh despite only picking up one sack in garbage time. This week Baltimore made their life a little easier by bringing Baker Mayfield down five times. The return of the pass rush helped force the Browns rookie quarterback into some long yardage situations.

In some instances coach Martindale drew up some more creative blitz packages to get his defense rolling. Eric Weddle’s first quarter sack stands out as a good example of this. The veteran safety was able to hide behind a pair of edge rushers at the line and get to Mayfield untouched for the easy blind side sack.

4. Ravens avoid a few injury scares

After getting some key players back from injury this week the Ravens were looking stronger than ever. However, throughout the course of Sunday’s game there were some plays that made you hold your breath. Both Tavon Young and Mark Andrews had to exit the game for concussion protocol but neither one was permanently sidelined.

Young was shaken up after diving for an incredible interception in the first quarter. The third-year cornerback was quickly tackled by a pair of Browns players but was hit in the head in the process. Getting Young back was a huge relief for the defense since the Ravens only had four cornerbacks activated for the game.

5. Same old Ravens

There is no other way for me to sum this game up. The offense was given an insane amount of opportunities throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, but failed to get into the end zone just once. Between the Ravens defense picking up six stops in the last two quarters and the Browns shooting themselves in the foot with ten penalties, there is just no excuse for the Ravens offense.

At the end of the day this was the same old Ravens that Weddle has been joking about in his recent post game press conferences. I give the team all the credit in the world for making the necessary adjustments against Denver and Pittsburgh but they disappointed this week. Nothing screams same old Ravens more than playing down to your competition a week after a big win.

Image credit: John Kuntz / Cleveland.com

Ravens: Five things we learned following 26-14 win over Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA — Two and a half weeks after losing on a primetime stage to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens rebounded on Sunday Night Football with a 26-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The victory marks the second straight win for the Ravens and advances their record to 3-1, which ties them with Cincinnati for the lead in the AFC North over the Steelers and Browns, who both hold records of 1-2-1.

Here are five things we learned on about the Ravens on Sunday night.


1. Without Jimmy Smith, the Ravens defense proved us wrong and held the Steelers in-check

It’s public knowledge that my top concern heading into this game was whether or not the Ravens’ defense, particularly the secondary, could limit the damage the Steelers’ passing game could do after Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards against a Jimmy Smith-less defense last December in Pittsburgh. The Ravens were without Smith again this time, and the entire unit showed that they were not going to let the Steelers run wild this time.

Despite going into halftime with the game tied, allowing drives of 69, 76, and 79 yards for 13 total points, the Ravens’ defense buckled down and shut the Steelers out in the second half, limiting their high-octane offense to just 47 yards. Roethlisberger’s pass yardage total was cut nearly in half from the last meeting at 274, with just 40 yards in the second half. Tim Williams collected the lone Ravens’ sack on Roethlisberger in garbage time, and the tandem of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr held Antonio Brown to just 62 yards on five receptions, which was the same total as tight end Vance McDonald, who along with Brown led the Steelers in reception yards.

You couldn’t ask for a much better defensive performance than what the Ravens put together on a primetime stage against a divisional opponent who had beaten Baltimore in their three prior meetings. Brown’s name was barely mentioned all night, and the Steelers mustered just 19 rushing yards. Areas of concern such as the middle of the field being exposed still existed, but the Steelers could not sustain any consistent production from their big-name weapons.

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2. Alex Collins has a fumbling problem

Easily the most frustrating moment of the night came early in the second quarter with the Ravens in the red zone carrying a 14-3 lead. On the first play of this specific drive, Joe Flacco threw a beautiful deep ball over the middle of the field to John Brown for a gain of 71 to set up the Ravens on the Pittsburgh 13-yard line.

After the referees flagged Javon Hargrave for a defensive offside on the next play, the Ravens faced a first-and-five situation where Flacco found Maxx Williams for a gain of six yards, setting up a first-and-goal down on the Steelers’ two-yard line. The Ravens called Alex Collins‘ number on an outside run play, but Collins fumbled right before he crossed the goal line and Pittsburgh recovered, ruining the Ravens’ chances to extend their lead to 21-3.

Despite being backed up on their own one-yard line, the Steelers went 79 yards down to Baltimore’s 20-yard line where Chris Boswell booted his second field goal of the game. The Ravens punted on their next possession. Then, the Steelers would go 76 yards on five plays, with Ben throwing for gains of 11 and 33 yards, capped off by a 26-yard touchdown toss to Brown. Mike Tomlin elected to go for the two-point conversion, which was successful with Roethlisberger connecting with James Conner.

While the Ravens shut out the Steelers after the Brown touchdown, the Collins fumble completely stalled the Ravens’ momentum and allowed the Steelers to get back in the game. Had Collins held onto the ball and scored, the Ravens would have led 21-3. The Steelers would have found a way back into the game regardless, but the Ravens cannot afford mistakes like this in big games.

With Buck Allen leading the team with four red zone touchdowns this season, the Ravens not going to him in this spot was puzzling. However, after Collins fumbled, his snap count decreased for the remainder of the game, with Allen and even undrafted rookie De’Lance Turner getting their numbers called in the second half. Collins has had fumbling problems before and if this theme continues, the Ravens may need to explore other options.


3. Convincing win was great, but Ravens still need to cut down on the dumb mistakes

Along with the Collins fumble, a handful of other dumb mistakes kept the Steelers in the game when the margin should have been a lot larger. Michael Crabtree dropped what would have been a first down, stalling a second-quarter drive. Crabtree and Flacco also miss-communicated on another second quarter play that would have easily turned into a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.

With a 20-14 lead in the third quarter, the Ravens tore deep into their trickery plays and went to Lamar Jackson multiple times. Jackson finished the game with nine snaps on offense, up seven from his two-snap total in last week’s win over the Broncos. On a crucial third-and-three play on the Steelers’ 43-yard line, Jackson rushed to the right for a gain of one yard, stalling a shaky drive with the Ravens just out of field goal range. John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg confidently went for it on fourth down and converted on an inside sweep by Chris Moore. The Ravens would get the ball to the Pittsburgh 31-yard line before Justin Tucker extended Baltimore’s lead to nine with a 49-yard field goal, his third of four good three-point kicks on the night.

Moore bailed the Ravens out of their cute play-calling, but yet again using Jackson as a decoy nearly costed the Ravens a chance at points. In his nine snaps, the Steelers held Jackson to 17 yards on four rushes. I’m not as upset about using Jackson early in the game just to throw defenses off-guard, but if they catch on, stop getting too cute and go to your franchise quarterback who’s averaging over eight yards-per-completion in the game.

With four minutes remaining in the game and a 23-14 lead, the Ravens once again entered field goal range. In such an important game, both for divisional purposes and for the franchise as a whole, most coaching staffs would have done whatever they could to take as much time off the clock as possible. Not the Ravens. Deep in Pittsburgh territory, the Ravens ran it on first down with Allen before Flacco threw two incomplete passes, setting up Tucker for his fourth field goal with 3:37 to play. Even if the Ravens ran three straight run plays and still came up short of the first down, they could have run the clock to almost the two-minute warning.

Given the circumstances the poor clock management here didn’t come back to bite the Ravens, but if Harbaugh continues to do this against good teams it will come back to haunt him at some point. If you have a lead above a touchdown late in the game, run the ball, milk the clock as much as you can, and take the points. If you disagree, just watch the last few minutes of the Ravens/Eagles game in 2016.


4. Joe Flacco’s postgame frustrations showed why he’s a rejuvenated quarterback

Despite winning the game and putting up 363 passing yards (the highest total a Ravens quarterback has ever put up against the Steelers), Flacco didn’t shy away from showing his frustrations for the Ravens not being as good as they could have been.

“Yeah, I’m frustrated,” Flacco said after the game. “I really am. I thought there were a couple of drives there at the end of the half where we just shot ourselves in the foot. We went into halftime and it wasn’t a big deal because we were basically still at zero-zero, but I really just felt like we could have had 28, 30, 35 points out there at halftime.”

“It just felt like we left stuff out there, for sure,” Flacco said. “With these guys and the way these guys have been throughout my time here, especially over the course of the last couple years, you just don’t want to leave points out there because you know what they’re capable of doing.”

I love the edginess from Flacco here. Flacco’s swept his emotions under the rug for much of his career, but it’s great to see him pushing the offense to be better despite the solid primetime showcase. The Collins fumble and Crabtree miscues were not on Joe, and he’s doing exactly what a franchise quarterback should be doing: letting his guys know that they still have work to do to be great.


5. Ravens may want to lock John Brown up sooner rather than later

The 71-yard strike to Brown referenced above wasn’t the only big play of the night for the former Arizona Cardinal. The Ravens’ first drive of the night ended with a 33-yard touchdown strike from Flacco to Brown, where Brown beat Cameron Sutton and Joe Haden for the score. Brown finished the game as the Ravens’ leading receiver with 116 yards on three receptions and a touchdown.

Through his first four games in Baltimore, Brown has accumulated 15 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He’s on-pace to finish with numbers similar to his 2015 career year that saw him catch 65 balls for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns.

Brown leads Ravens receivers by a large margin. Behind Brown, Willie Snead has 198 yards and a touchdown on 18 receptions. Crabtree also owns 18 receptions for 184 yards and a score. Brown is the only one of the trio on a one-year contract. As I have mentioned several times, health is the key for Brown. If he continues to put up big numbers in the coming weeks, the Ravens need to give him an extension and prevent him from entering free agency, where his price would end up being higher than what it is now.


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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun