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

 

 

 

 

 

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Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to the Queen City to take on the Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens will head to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend looking to bounce back from a disappointing 24-23 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens fell to 4-3 on the season when an all-too-familiar script played out in Baltimore. The Ravens entered the fourth quarter with a 17-7 lead off the strength of a Lamar Jackson touchdown run, a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Mark Andrews, and a Justin Tucker field goal. However, the defense which had been spectacular leading up to the fourth quarter, allowed 17 unanswered points while the offense couldn’t get out of neutral as the Saints took a 24-17 lead with 2:07 to go in the game.

Flacco went to work on the next drive, marching the Ravens 81 yards in six plays and completing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to cut the lead to 24-23 with 24 seconds remaining. Brown had a massive day receiving hauling in seven passes for 134 yards and that touchdown. Someone predicted that.

Everyone inside and outside M&T Bank Stadium knew what would happen next. Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, would boot through his 223’rd consecutive extra point and the Ravens would hope for overtime with :24 seconds remaining. And then this happened:

The reactions say it all.

So the Ravens are on to Carolina looking to upend a 4-2 Panthers team that had a fourth quarter rally of their own, scoring 21 points against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles to win 21-17 in Philly.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest in Charlotte.

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Coach Harbaugh and his Ravens need a big performance this Sunday in Carolina with a tough schedule looming. Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is it a must win game?

When Tucker’s extra point failed and the Ravens fell to 4-3, this upcoming game against the Panthers may have become a must-win.

Here’s why. In the NFL, losing more than six games all but seals your playoff fate. Since 2012, there have been eight teams to earn playoff berths with seven or more losses. That breaks down to five division champions and three Wild Card berths, two of which were earned last season by the Bills and the Dolphins and the other being earned in 2013 by the Chargers. Just two of the last six seasons have produced a seven or more loss Wild Card team.

Since the AFC North was formed in 2002, there has never been a division champion with fewer than 10 wins. It has taken 11+ victories to win the division in 11 of the 16 years that the division has been in existence. In other words, nine wins isn’t going to be enough for the Ravens to win the AFC North. This becomes further the case when you consider Pittsburgh’s tie is likely to benefit them. A nine win Steelers team gets in over a 9-7 Ravens or Bengals team.

Year AFC North Winner Record
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–5–1
2003 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15–1–0
2005 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2006 Baltimore Ravens 13–3–0
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2011 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2015 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0
2016 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 13–3–0

Is it possible with a loss on Sunday, that the Ravens could go 6-2 in the back half of the season to get to the magic number of 10 wins? Of course it is. But road contests are looming with the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens would need to win one of those games and be perfect at home. The home slate includes division match ups with the Pittsburgh Steelers next week, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 11), and Cleveland Browns (Week 17). The other home contests are the Oakland Raiders (Week 12), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 15).

A loss Sunday all but ends the Ravens division hopes if history is any indication. A Wild Card berth could remain in the cards, but the Chiefs and Chargers are both likely making the playoffs leaving just one Wild Card berth available. Can a seven loss team sneak in there? Certainly possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Ravens very well could be in a must-win game this Sunday.

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The Ravens defense will be looking to start another sack party this Sunday after a rocky performance against the Saints. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the Ravens contain Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

For the second week in a row the Ravens will face one of the NFL’S top quarterbacks when they take on Cam Newton this Sunday. Newton has the Panthers at 4-2 this season and he is once again putting together another Pro-Bowl caliber season.

He is completing 65% of his passes which would set his career high. He has 14 total touchdowns in six games and has thrown just four interceptions. He is the best dual threat quarterback in the game and he will present a huge challenge for a Ravens defense coming off their biggest challenge of the season.

The 2015 NFL MVP is 37-20 lifetime at home in the regular season and the Panthers have won eight straight games at Bank of America Stadium.

A big thing to watch for this week is how Ravens number one cornerback Jimmy Smith responds after the worst performance of his career. Michael Thomas’ numbers may not have been flashy (seven receptions, 69 yards and a touchdown) but Smith also committed two pass interference penalties and whiffed on a sack attempt that allowed Drew Brees to pick up a key conversion. Smith was accountable after the game:

There was plenty of blame to go around after Sunday’s game. The Ravens mustered just one sack after their franchise record-breaking 11 against the Titans. They gave up 17 points in fourth quarter which is nearly double what they had given up in the fourth quarter/overtime in the first six games combined.

The defense is in a good spot to get back to the domination we have been accustomed to against a Carolina offense that ranks 18th in total offense, 22nd in passing offense, and 18th in points-per-game. Their biggest threats on offense are running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen. If the Ravens can do a good job on those two players, they should be able to come out on top.

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens

More consistency is needed from the Ravens offense if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the offense pick up the pace?

As those of you who read these articles weekly and listen to the Charm City Bird Watch podcast should already know (thanks for doing both), I am a major supporter of Flacco. If you’re new here (thanks for popping in keep doing it), now you know as well. That doesn’t mean that he is not subject to criticism.

When the Saints cut the lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens offense responded with a three-and-out on a drive that ended with Flacco taking a sack on his own 15-yard line. The Saints would score on their next possession to take a 21-17 lead thanks to a short field and the offense again failed to get points, going nine plays this time but ultimately turning it over on downs. Flacco was 2-for-9 on those two drives and took a sack inside of his own 20-yard line.

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Joe Flacco led a big time drive to presumably tie the game against the Saints. But he and the offense could’ve helped the Ravens avoid the need for it. Image Credit: USA Today

Flacco played a great game on Sunday, one of his best of the year. His poise to lead the team down the field for the game-tying (we thought) touchdown after his offense and the Ravens defense faltered, should be applauded. Flacco is in the midst of having his best season yet but simply put the Ravens will need more consistency from Flacco and the offense this week if they want to emerge victorious in Carolina.

They will meet a Carolina defense that ranks 13th in total defense, 17th in passing yards allowed, and tenth in points-per-game allowed. Luke Kuechly and company are stout against the run, ranking ninth in the league. Flacco will need to throw early and often for the Ravens to come out on top.

Predictions:

Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Panthers 17

Nolan McGraw– Panthers 19 Ravens 16

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 20 Panthers 19

Ian Schultz– Ravens 24 Panthers 20

I know I picked the Panthers on the podcast but this is a massive game for the Ravens. A win in this game keeps them on track for ten wins which should be enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs. Flacco and the offense are able to put just enough points on the board in Carolina this Sunday and the Ravens get to 5-3 ahead of their week nine showdown with the Steelers.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sports and Life

 

 

 

Podcast Episode 22: Justin Tucker’s missed PAT stuns Baltimore and Orioles let international talent slip away

Image Credit: The Forward 

Welcome to Episode 22 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

For the second time in four episodes, our guest this week is an employee from our sponsor, Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. This time, we welcome in Camden Williams, who works in the back of the house (3:37). Cam happens to be named after Camden Yards and he’s obsessed with football. We recorded our segment with Cam hours after the Ravens’ soul-crushing 24-23 defeat to the Saints, so you’ll hear plenty of raw emotion and reaction to Baltimore’s second defeat in three weeks. We’ll also go around the NFL to recap the top takeaways from week 7’s action.

Up next, McGraw and Schultz hop on the show to continue our assessment of the Ravens’ latest loss (33:14). Who was to blame – Justin Tucker, the offense, or the defense? Are the Ravens still a legit contender, or are we seeing more of the same from the previous three seasons? How will the Ravens’ defensive line make up for the loss of Willie Henry (45:55)? The Ravens are 4-3, and face a tough schedule ahead. The clock is ticking, and if the Ravens go 1-1 or 0-2 before their week 10 bye, the pressure will keep mounting.

As always, we’ll tell you Who’s Trending (48:32) after the Ravens’ most recent performance, and we’ll go over some things to watch for on Sunday (1:07:32) as the Ravens hit the road for the fourth time in five weeks for a 1:00 pm tilt with the 4-2 Carolina Panthers.

The World Series is underway, and there’s plenty of baseball talk on-tap for episode 22. We begin with the Orioles, who despite leading MLB in international slot money this offseason ($6.5 million), did not land three of the biggest international names in baseball – Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr, and Sandy Gastón. How in the world did the Orioles let this happen (1:15:20)? We then dive into the 2018 World Series, contested between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox (1:19:46). Will Manny Machado spark any drama against his old east coast rival, and who do we think will walk away as champions? All of this and more on this week’s podcast.

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 22 (1:25:07).

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!

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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.’ One possible entree combination, pictured above: Filet Mignon, Mac & Cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and a dinner roll!