Podcast: Nolan and Jake react to Super Bowl 52, latest Ravens news, and latest Terps loss

Welcome to the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On today’s show, Nolan McGraw and Jake McDonnell break down a number of topics, including:

  1. Superbowl 52: Well-deserved for Philadelphia, the empire crumbles, and discussion on the strange McDaniels / Colts saga
  2. Reaction to last Friday’s ‘State of the Ravens’ press conference with Mr. Bisciotti (including the Ozzie Newsome / Eric DeCosta transition), and Ray Lewis’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018
  3. The Terps’ tough 74-70 loss to Penn State on Wednesday night

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Ozzie Newsome to step down after 2018 season; Eric DeCosta to take over as Ravens GM

OWINGS MILLS, MD — On Friday afternoon, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti spoke to the media for about 45 minutes. Local reporters drilled Bisciotti with a number of questions, focusing on key issues like attendance, on-field play, and retaining John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in four of five seasons.

When Bisciotti discussed what went into his decision to keep Harbaugh, he mentioned general manager Ozzie Newsome’s name without being prompted. Bisciotti revealed that 2018 would be Newsome’s last season as the Ravens’ general manager, and that assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will succeed Newsome, with Ozzie sticking around in a lesser role to help with the transition period.

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Image Credit: The Japan Times

“We had talked after the 2013 season and it was about Eric,” Bisciotti said. “Ozzie agreed to re-do his contract for a five-year extension, in which case he would turn the 53 [man roster] over to Eric, and that’s a year away. Ozzie will step down as GM and has assured me that he is not going anywhere, and that he will work with me and work with Eric for a smooth transition. He will be the highest-paid scout in America when Eric takes over next year.”

 

Both Newsome and DeCosta have been with the Ravens since the team’s inception in 1996. Newsome played 13 seasons in the NFL as a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. He had a Hall-Of-Fame career, finishing with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 for his successes on the field. Four years after his retirement as a player, the Browns hired Newsome as an assignment scout. He worked his way up to being named the Browns’ director of player personnel, a role he would flourish in. When the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens, Newsome was named the general manager and has been in that role ever since.

In his 22 years as general manager of the Ravens, Newsome has drafted two Hall of Fame players in Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis (and several potential future Hall of Famers, including Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Marshal Yanda), and won two Superbowl Championships in 2000 and 2012. 18 of Newsome’s draftees have seen selected to the Pro Bowl. Newsome, now the third longest-tenured general manager in the NFL, has long been regarded as one of the best in the business.

Along with Newsome, DeCosta has been around since day one for the Ravens. He joined Baltimore’s staff in 1996 as an area scout. He worked his way up the ranks, serving six years as the director of college scouting, three years as director of player personnel, and finally as the assistant general manager, a role DeCosta has been in since 2012.

Although the Ravens’ brass kept this announcement a secret for four seasons, it should not come as a surprise to anyone. For years, other NFL teams have tried to steal DeCosta away from Baltimore, most recently the Packers. Every time DeCosta was offered or recruited for a job opening around the NFL, he turned it down. Now that the Ravens’ plan initiated in 2013 has been made public, we now know why DeCosta turned down several attractive jobs.

Newsome will go down as one of the best general managers in the history of the NFL. He had a Hall of Fame career on the field, and after he retires he will be considered again for his stellar career in the front office. Now 61-years-old and having battled a couple minor health scares, the time has come for Newsome to hand the keys to the castle to DeCosta. Keeping Newsome around in a smaller role for a few years is a brilliant idea. DeCosta has watched Ozzie for over two decades now, and if he has any questions, Ozzie will be right there for advice. With that said, DeCosta will be the one putting pen to paper and making the final ruling on decisions regarding the roster.

This is a move that Ravens fans have been anticipating for a few years now. After the 2018 season, we will finally get to see what DeCosta is capable of.

Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees plans to retire following 2017 season

BALTIMORE, MD — As many Ravens fans were sleeping on early Sunday morning, reports surfaced that defensive coordinator Dean Pees intends to retire following the 2017 season. ESPN Ravens Reporter Jamison Hensley was among the first to break the story online.

Pees, 68, is in his eighth season with the Ravens; the sixth as defensive coordinator. He spent his first two seasons with the Ravens as the linebackers coach. Prior to Baltimore, Pees held the same two roles with the New England Patriots from 2004-2009. Pees has also held several coaching positions at the collegiate level, the most notable being his head coaching stint with Kent State from 1997-2003.

How soon Pees can start enjoying retirement depends on when the Ravens’ season ends. The Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals on New Year’s Eve, and can clinch a playoff berth and the #5 seed in the AFC with a win. If the Ravens lose, they can still make the postseason, but will have to rely on either the Titans to lose to the Jaguars, or the Bills to lose to the Dolphins to make that happen.

With Pees at the helm through the first 16 games, the Ravens’ defense ranks first in the NFL with 33 turnovers, fourth in points allowed (272), and ninth in yards allowed (4842). The unit is sending three starters to the Pro Bowl – outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (7X), safety Eric Weddle (5X), and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (3X). Had it not been for this Ravens defense, the early portion of the Ravens’ schedule could have played out a lot differently.

🔥HOT TAKE🔥: This is a big blow for the Ravens. According to many reports, this has been planned for a long time, but out of respect to Pees the Ravens did not make the announcement public until now. While the Ravens will certainly wish Pees a happy retirement, they will need to replace one of the better defensive coordinators in the NFL. It will also be interesting to see how Suggs, now 35 and in his 14th season, reacts to this announcement. Would Suggs want to stick around and learn a new playbook at this point in his career?

A name to keep an eye on in the coming days is Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. After almost six seasons with Indy, Pagano appears to be on the way out. The 3-12 Colts are expected to part ways with Pagano following their game against the Houston Texans tomorrow, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Of course, Ravens fans are all too familiar with Pagano, as he served on Baltimore’s coaching staff from 2008-2011 (secondary coach ’08-’10, defensive coordinator ’11). It remains to be seen whether Pagano would want to find another head coaching gig elsewhere, or return to a coordinator role, potentially with his former team.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

Kenneth Dixon suspended four games for violating NFL substance abuse policy

The NFL has announced that Ravens running back, Kenneth Dixon has been suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Ravens provided a statement from Dixon after the news broke:

Dixon played in 12 games during his rookie year, rushing for 382 yards and two touchdowns. By the end of the season, Dixon had earned the starting role after splitting downs with Terrance West for much of the season.  Dixon was projected to continue as the starter in 2017 but that will have to wait until at least week five of the season.

As this story broke, the signing of free agent running back, Danny Woodhead became more clear.  The veteran rusher will provide stability in the run game until Dixon returns. With that being said, Woodhead has proven himself as a starter throughout his career and could remain in that role even after Dixon returns.

Ravens General Manager, Ozzie Newsome said that Dixon must learn from this mistake and work to rebuild his relationship with teammates and coaches.  “While we are disappointed in the decision Kenneth made, we appreciate the fact that he has assumed responsibility for his actions,” said Newsome.

Five takeaways from “State of the Ravens” press conference

OWINGS MILLS, MD.

1. The pitchforks are out!

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Credit: Steel Army

Probably the most memorable quote from Tuesday’s press conference was when Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said that “The pitchforks are out” after the Ravens failed to reach the playoffs for third time in the last four seasons. Bisciotti looked to be prepared to answer questions from reporters regarding the team’s shortcomings, but nonetheless this was a notable thing to hear from the team’s owner.

“I think John Harbaugh can coach better,” Bisciotti said. “I think Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta can draft better. I think Joe Flacco can play better. I believe that they can collectively bring us back to prominence.”

It’s clear that the coaching, front office and quarterback of the Ravens have all been put on notice. It should also be mentioned that Bisciotti said that despite the team’s lack of success in recent years, he trusts his general manager, head coach, and quarterback to get the job done because of how successful the Ravens have been under them. Regardless of his trust, the fact of the matter is that the Ravens have made the postseason once since winning Super Bowl 47. If the team is to turn it around and make it back to the postseason in 2017, a lot needs to happen this offseason.

2. Joe Flacco needs to be better

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Credit: USA Today

The entire “State Of The Ravens” press conference lasted a little over an hour, and a lot of the questions were centered around Flacco. Flacco finally threw for more than 4,000 passing yards in 2016, but threw for just 6.4 yards-per-completion, the second lowest mark of his career. There is no doubt that Flacco needs to be better next season if the Ravens are to make it back to the postseason.

“I’m pretty optimistic that Joe will be better next season,” Bisciotti said. “We need to get more out of Joe.”

The Ravens know that they need Flacco to perform better, but they should also know that Flacco needs a supporting cast around him to get the job done. Flacco has never been one to carry an entire offense by himself, so getting him some weapons is a big priority for Baltimore this spring and summer.

“I need to get Joe to execute better,” Harbaugh said. “[We need to] build a better team around him.”

At one point, Bisciotti brought up the idea of inviting Flacco to come meet with Harbaugh, Newsome and himself in Florida to see what Flacco thinks could help improve this football team. This has not been done before with Flacco, but as he enters his 10th season it could be beneficial to pick apart his brain and get a sense of where his mind is.

3. Three key targets – secondary, offensive line, wide receiver 

As he is every year, Ozzie Newsome was asked about what positions he will be looking to address in the coming months. Every position is important, and there is a lot for the Ravens to look at this offseason. When asked, Newsome mentioned three particular areas of the team that he feels need to be improved:

  1. Adding depth in the secondary
  2. Bolster the offensive line
  3. Add a complementary wide receiver

Most Ravens fans would agree that those three positions will need upgrades. The secondary’s lack of depth was exposed all season as Jimmy Smith missed time. Bisciotti picked apart Shareece Wright’s disappointing performance, which leaves me wondering if Wright will be back in 2017. The offensive line will need to be evaluated with the likely departure of tackle Rick Wagner and center Jeremy Zuttah being a potential cap causality. With the retirement of Steve Smith Sr. and the uncertainty surrounding Kamar Aiken, the Ravens will have to bring in some receivers via the draft or free agency.

Those three positions are probably the biggest areas of need, but let’s not forget about pass rushers. The Ravens have two aging veterans in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. One of them is likely to be a cap casualty (probably Dumervil), and behind them stands unproven youngsters in Zadarius Smith and Matthew Judon, entering their third and second years, respectively.

When asked about the pass rush, Newsome mentioned that the Ravens will look to add some edge rushers, but also alluded to Smith and Judon needing to improve in order for the pass rush to improve.

After hearing all of this from Ozzie, we now have a sense of what positions the Ravens will be looking to upgrade. The question now becomes how they plan on getting these positions to where they need to be.

4. Offense needs to be more balanced 

It was good to hear from the front office that there will be an emphasis on being more balanced on offense. The Ravens threw the ball 64% of the time in 2016, and the results were not efficient.

“I think we are all in agreement that [we] need a more balanced offense,” Bisciotti said. “I want to run the ball. I want to control the clock.”

The Ravens lacked a strong running game in 2016, which has been a benchmark of the Baltimore Ravens dating back to the early 2000’s. Running backs like Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice have allowed the Ravens to be a top-notch rushing offense in year’s past, and Bisciotti would like for the Ravens to get back to that standard.

How do the Ravens fix the problem? The answer to that question could be simple in theory. If they “bolster” their offense line like they say that they will, that will certainly help. The other solution here is to simply run the football more. Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West are more than capable of providing an above average running attack. The responsibility of getting the ball in their hands rests on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s shoulders, as well as Harbaugh’s.

Mornhinweg has never been one to run the football as much as you would like to see, but its clear that his mindset needs to change in 2017. Mornhinweg could be on a short leash this season, so building an effective running game will be a big undertaking for him this offseason.

5. Ravens reiterate stance of not taking chances on players with character issues

Ever since the Ray Rice saga, the Ravens have shied away from drafting or signing players with significant character issues. That stand appears to stand firm in 2017. Newsome mentioned that the Ravens are not afraid to take chances on players who have these kinds of issues, but Bisciotti said that the Ravens would rather not deal with that.

In all fairness, who can blame them? The domestic violence incident with Rice in 2014 led to a public relations nightmare that had the Ravens ripped apart by national media and the general public for keeping Rice as long as they did. The Ravens did a good job of not allowing that event to distract them on the field, but it was sure to be a huge annoyance for the public relations staff to defend the organization’s actions throughout the ordeal.

Sure, the Ravens will probably study film of players with character issues, but I think that the organization would rather not link themselves to those individuals altogether. They are probably better off by keeping the stance that they have now with these questionable character players.