The season was a roller coaster ride and some of the bends, turns and sheer drop-offs made many of the Ravens’ faithful consider that they may not have the stomach for this 2013. Can we blame them?
The Ravens were coming off a season of greatness and a half-decade of success. The final nail in the coffin came against a hot Cincinnati Bengals team that went 8-0 at home in the Queen City this season.
I suppose that an 8-8 record is not nearly as bad as it could have been. Prior to the bye week (when they rested with a 3-3 record) I was not sure if the Ravens would win more than 5 or 6 games. They could not get over the hump on the road and they just failed to finish close games as evidenced by:
• 2-6 road record
• 4 of 8 losses by 3 points or less
There are many contributing factors to the road and the inability to win close games, but ultimately it comes down to coaching. Too often the Ravens looked lethargic, unprepared and disinterested. For whatever reason, John Harbaugh seemed to have an extremely difficult time this season getting the Ravens to go 100% every play for the entire game. The lack of depth and experience at key positions compounded the coaching deficiency.
John Harbaugh, Grade: C. A “C” grade is pretty average, like Harbaugh’s season. Give him credit though – the Ravens did lose a lot of starters on both sides of the ball and this team was extremely inexperienced and young at many positions. Furthermore, the loss of Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones and Kelechi Osemele cannot be understated on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014, I’d like to see Harbaugh utilize time outs a bit more effective and I really hope that he stresses the importance of discipline because many times throughout the season, the Ravens were their own worst enemies with penalties.
Offensive Grade: F+. Overall, the offense was really bad for the entire season. They showed some signs of brilliance here and there (game winning drive against the Vikings, for example), but they couldn’t run the ball, they couldn’t protect Joe Flacco, he threw far too many interceptions and the receivers left far too many plays on the field. To make matters worse, apparently there is a possibility that several of the offensive coaches engaged in an ongoing power struggle.
Hopefully the entire offensive coaching staff is gutted and the Ravens start from scratch. They need fresh eyes and they need someone who can design an innovative and unpredictable game plan. I just don’t believe that Jim Caldwell is the answer for the offense.
As for Flacco, he actually had a personal best in regular season yardage with 3,912. However, he did throw 22 interceptions to only 19 touchdowns. Not every interception was his fault (for example, Ed Dickson tipped a pass in the loss to Buffalo), but oftentimes it seemed like Flacco was never comfortable on the field and he forced a lot of passes into tight coverage. If the Ravens ever want to win another Super Bowl, they need Flacco at his best. That means getting an offensive design that works to the advantage of the Ravens’ players, but it also means getting Flacco a legitimate quarterback coach.
The Ravens coaching staff is the league’s most populated (24) and they are the only team to have a “run game coordinator”, yet they don’t have a dedicated quarterback coach. Two of Flacco’s best seasons (2010 and 2012) came when he had a quarterback coach (Jim Zorn and Jim Caldwell, respectively). Now, I don’t believe that Flacco is incapable of playing the position nor do I believe that he isn’t intelligent enough to play the position. However, there are a lot of times when an extra set of eyes can help during film sessions, during the game and give more definitive feedback on mechanical issues.
For example earlier in the season Flacco constantly threw “floaters” off his back foot. A quarterback coach could have potentially helped Flacco identify and fix that. Even the great Drew Brees has had a quarterback coach since he signed with the Saints back in 2006! Considering the issues with the offensive line, injuries at receiver and tight end and the mind numbing play calling, I’d give Flacco’s 2013 season a C-. He needs to play better, but it wasn’t all on him this year.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are two other players that do not deserve failing grades this season. Much like Flacco, a majority of their production was stymied by abysmal offensive line play. How is it that the Ravens hire a “run game coordinator” and then produce arguably the worst rushing offense in the history of the NFL? It doesn’t add up.
For the first time since his rookie year, Rice did not crack 1,000 yards on the ground. He also had less than 1,000 yards of total offense, which is also a career low for him. He is only 26 years old, but he just looked sluggish throughout the season. Some fans have pointed out that he looked a little “pudgy” and while Rice has always been a stout guy, I do think that he may have played this season at a higher weight than what he has in the past. The added weight could have caused him to lose burst and lateral quickness. This weight gain also could have led to his hip injury early on in the season.
Pierce, on the other hand, is not lacking for speed or quickness. The problem I saw with Pierce most of the season was he dances around the line of scrimmage far too much and he tries to bounce everything to the outside. A lot of that has to do with coaching, but next year I’d like to see him be more decisive when he hits the hole. If it were not for the terrible play from the line, I’d give both Rice and Pierce F’s, but because I think the line clearly contributed to their lack of production, I’m giving Rice and Pierce a D for the season.
The receivers had a pretty tall task at hand considering the offense couldn’t run the ball. A lot of pressure fell on them and while they responded better than what I initially thought, there were still periods of a game where they would just disappear. Torrey Smith (65 receptions, 1,128 yards and 4 touchdowns) had the best season a Ravens receiver has had since Derrick Mason and rookie Marlon Brown was very impressive with 7 receiving touchdowns on 49 receptions and 524 yards. Jacoby Jones made splash plays here and there, but he also left a lot of plays on the field. In fact, there were a few plays when Jacoby had the ball bounce off of his chest and into the arms of a defender.
I can’t fault Jacoby too much because he has never been a go-to-receiver, but the fact that he spent much of his time as the #2 on this team just shows how poor the quality of depth was at receiver this season. With Jacoby and Tandon Doss heading into free agency and Brandon Stokley retiring, the Ravens are looking at an off-season with Torrey, Marlon, Deonte Thompson and Aaron Mellette as the top 4 receivers. The front office really needs to address this position during the off-season. They invested a lot of money in Joe Flacco and they need to give him better weapons to work with. Overall, I think Torrey and Marlon are well deserving of a solid B and taking Jacoby’s contributions as a return specialist, I’d have to give him a B as well.
A common theme that readers may have noticed in this piece is how bad the offensive line was. Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times, the most in his career and the 2nd most in the NFL. The Ravens also finished 30th in total rushing yards with 1,328 yards and dead last in yards per carry with 3.1. To put that into perspective, both LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte had more rushing yards individually than the entire Ravens’ offense.
Individually, Marshall Yanda and Eugene Monroe were the two best linemen and that really isn’t saying much. Michael Oher is a penalty machine and as the season progressed he seemed to become less and less interested in putting forth 100%. He is a free agent and I don’t expect he’ll be back. The most common whipping boy this season was Gino Gradkowski and rightfully so. He was overmatched in a lot of games, but I will say that there is a glimmer of hope with him. Gradkowski did get better as the season went on. He wasn’t great, but he did improve. Hopefully this season of trial by fire will have given him the experience needed to be an adequate starter next year. Finally, AQ Shipley…ugh…boy was he bad all year long. I can’t believe the Ravens traded a draft pick for him. Shipley should never be a starter at center or guard. Penalties aside, he is slow, can’t pull and was constantly pushed back into Flacco. Overall, the offensive line’s performance in 2013 is a flat out F performance.
Defensive Grade: B-. Statistically, the defense had a very good season. They finished 12th in total points against with 352 and 12th in total yards against with 5,368. They also finished in the top-5 of the league in rushing touchdowns given up (5). The big area of concern for the defensive unit was their inability to create turnovers. They were 23rd in recovered fumbles and 16th in interceptions. Another area of concern was the lack of consistent quarterback pressure. When the Ravens signed Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil, like many fans, I figured that the Ravens would be able to generate a lot of quarterback pressure and get a lot of sacks. They started off extremely well and in the first 8 games, Terrell Suggs had 9 sacks. However, they finished middle of the road in this category with 40 total team sacks.
Terrell Suggs is in an interesting situation. He is in the final year of his current deal and he now has finished 11 seasons in the NFL even though he is only 31 years old. He is expensive and the Ravens could save quite a bit of 2014 cap room by cutting him. I’m not sure if he is slowing down or what, but after producing 9 sacks in the first 8 games he all but disappeared for the second half of the season and only had 1 sack in the final 8 games of the season (it came against Tom Brady who basically fell down).
Other than a few splash plays from Art Jones, none of the other interior defensive linemen made plays into the backfield, so even with Suggs and Dumervil rushing from the perimeter, quarterbacks often had a clean pocket to step up into. Dumervil finished the season with 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Dumervil has never been very good against the run, but he was especially inconsistent against the run this season and he committed several costly penalties that one could argue directly resulted in losses. Overall, I’d give Suggs a C+ and Dumervil a C.
The secondary had issues all of their own. The most obvious and blatant issues from my perspective was their inability to communicate. They gave up big plays deep down the field because they weren’t on the same page. Corey Graham is a free agent and even though he led the team with 4 interceptions, he constantly got beat on rub-routes and pick-routes. The Chicago game and the New England game come to mind. Both Lardarius Webb and Corey Graham were lined up on the same side of the field and neither one of them seemed to be aware of where the other was and as a result, they ended up covering the same receiver and left another wide open. At least 3 of Alshon Jeffery’s 7 receptions against the Ravens could be attributed to such communication breakdowns.
Jimmy Smith was the best defender in the secondary all season. He bailed out the defense several times in the red zone this season and his coverage on Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, two of the league’s biggest and best receivers, was incredible. The Ravens would be wise to try and get a new deal with Jimmy done now before he gets to free agency and commands top dollar from some other team.
Matt Elam started out as a rather “meh” spot in the defensive secondary early on in the season, but as the year went on and Elam got more comfortable with the speed of the game, we all saw how good he could really be. The fact that he played out of position the entire year is just a further testament to how good Elam can become once he is able to move over to strong safety. I don’t expect the Ravens to resign James Ihedigbo, which is kind of a shame because he did turn in a good season at strong safety, but the Ravens really need someone who can play centerfield and provide good over-the-top coverage because Matt Elam isn’t that type of a player. Overall, I thought the secondary got better as the season went on, but communication issues drop the final grade to a B-.
Special Teams Grade: A. Justin Tucker IS the Ravens’ special teams and he was their offense for much of the season. I truly believe that he is the best place kicker in the NFL right now. He might even be the best overall player on the team. Jacoby Jones did a solid job returning kicks and punts once he finally got healthy, but Sam Koch may have played his way out of Baltimore. For much of the season his kicks were wobbly, off-target and nowhere near as long as previous seasons. Koch’s price tag next season and his lack of production this season leads me to believe that the Ravens will likely part ways with him. They could find a younger punter who is far less expensive to botch punts for most of the season.
Final thought: As bad as the Ravens were this season, there is definitely talent. The salary cap could play a major part in what the Ravens decide to do this off-season, but as far as I am concerned until the front office and coaching staff invest in Joe Flacco and the offense, they will continue to struggle. The only way to effectively sustain playoff appearances with a bottom-barrel offense is by having a top-3 defense. Hopefully they will come to that conclusion this off-season and make the necessary changes to improve the offense.