Maybe it was fitting that the two teams that ousted the Ravens from playoff contention were the Patriots and the Bengals. Think about what these two teams represent from a competitive standpoint.
In New England, you have the team that the Ravens are constantly locking horns with. Through the years, the Ravens have undoubtedly closed the gap, and finally overcame their nemesis last year. But the Patriots are still ahead of the curve when it comes to coaching prowess and simply outworking the rest of the league. They’ll find the cracks in any team’s armor. When they get knocked down a few notches, they get back to the top by reinventing themselves.
In Cincinnati, you have a team that can have a slew of mental lapses. But boy are they talented. And they flashed that talent all over the field this past Sunday. They have the explosive players that the Ravens lack, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They also have the hot shot offensive coordinator (Jay Gruden) with the type of killer instinct the Baltimore offensive coaches only show in flashes. He operates his offense more like a gunslinger than an ancient swashbuckler.
Against both squads, the Ravens were overwhelmed in two distinct ways. The Patriots’ staff tore the Ravens’ tired and predictable game plans to shreds while running circles around their coaches. The Bengals simply overcame the mistakes they made through sheer talent, tenacity, and big-play capability.
The films from these games should be seared in the minds of head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome.
The New England game is a reminder that the Ravens simply cannot win games based on talent alone. They need to scheme and put their players in the best possible positions to succeed. That means finding offensive coaches that approach every game differently, with an eye for attacking exact weaknesses. And they need to be creative and unpredictable. When the original game plan doesn’t work, they have to be able to make adjustments on the fly.
The Cincinnati game is a reminder that the Ravens don’t have many playmakers on either side of the ball. While Torrey Smith is a dynamic deep threat, the rest of the offensive skill players don’t scare anybody. On defense, splash plays (sacks, turnovers) were few and far between. Somehow the team has to find more “ball magnets” (as Ray Lewis likes to say).
Overall, the Ravens need to infuse their team with new blood, both in the personnel and coaching departments. On offense especially, the team must create an entirely new philosophy they can get behind. Whatever approach they choose should be fresh, innovative, and keep today’s NFL defenses on their toes.
In terms of players, the Ravens have to try to add more physically gifted players that can make plays outside of the framework of perfect execution. The organization has bypassed some skilled players in past drafts for high character individuals that overachieve. It’s time to start taking more calculated risks.
This offseason is a pivotal stage in the organization’s future. The Ravens can take the conservative approach and look at what the Patriots and Bengals did to them as blips on the radar screen.
OR…they can start punching back, make some real changes, and forcefully reclaim their spot at the top of the NFL’s food chain.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rob Carr