For 6 out of 7 seasons and five straight the Baltimore Ravens were postseason participants. After that degree of success, as a fan you grow a little accustomed to that second season.
So sitting at home, watching the playoff games without anything on the line seemed a little different. When you don’t have a dog in the fight your perspective changes and sometimes you see things a bit more clearly when the emotion is stripped away.
As I watched (great games by the way) it was hard not to compare the playoff participants to the Ravens 2013 squad. And from my vantage point one thing that jumped out at me was that relatively speaking, the teams still standing heading into the weekend benefit from superior coaching.
John Harbaugh defenders will point to his record since he was named the Ravens head coach and rhetorically ask, “Who has been better?”
Fair question, so let me give credit where credit is due and say his resume is among the best ever as a 6-year head coach.
John Harbaugh is determined and possesses and insatiable desire and ability to stare adversity in the face, gather the collective will of his team and channel it in a positive direction. He is gritty and his team embraces that quality.
Without it there is no second Lombardi in the trophy case.
Without it, the Ravens wouldn’t have even reached 8-8 this season.
But that tough 1970’s Mid-Western mentality isn’t enough in the modern day NFL. Coaching needs to be efficient while demonstrating tactical prowess and their players need to be precise technicians.
While watching games since the start of the new year, college bowl games included, I couldn’t help but think how unimaginative the Ravens are on both sides of the ball.
Defensively the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy can take you only so far. Defenses become blasé with that approach. They lose their edge, force fewer turnovers and then can’t get off the field in the fourth quarter when it matters most.
Offensively, as if you need to be reminded, the Ravens are an absolute mess. Teams with less talent and with similar injuries on their offensive lines are light years ahead of Harbaugh’s troops. Zone blocking schemes, the label of which scares the daylights out of Ravens fans, are effective when executed properly.
Lines move in unison and running backs patiently wait for their blockers to clean out zones on the field after which they adeptly cut back and explode into open space. With the Ravens, how many times have you watched two linemen occupy one defender while another moves untouched towards the ball carrier or Joe Flacco?
The teams we watched this weekend have passing route combinations that have purpose and are complementary, designed to exploit soft spots in the defensive alignment. Relatively speaking the Ravens look more like old school electric football.
Most teams move their receivers around, put them in motion to give them a head start on creating separation or simply to detect tendencies in coverage schemes.
We watched bunch sets, rubs, well-designed screens, tight ends flanked out wide or No. 1 receivers lined up in the slot all to create mismatches and confusion. The Ravens just line up and say, “Here We Are”, try to stop us.
No misdirection, no red herrings, nothing to plant the seed of doubt in the minds of opposing defenders to slow them down, make them think and essentially make them less effective.
Part of the process towards becoming more effective is to review the season in detail. The Ravens coaches are doing that at this very moment – breaking down every second of game tape from the 2013 season. It’s a necessary exercise for those who aspire to improve.
But while these coaches measure the quality and accountability of their players, maybe Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti might consider hiring someone outside of the organization to do the same with the team’s coaching staff.
Aren’t their performances worthy of a discerning eye too?
Shouldn’t they be held accountable?
Self-scouting isn’t bad but it can’t be solely relied upon. It’s like grading with a curve.
But even with the curve, this coaching staff flunked miserably in 2013.
Admitting it is the first step in the right direction.