1. Fix the Offensive Line
The most obvious weakness and by far the single biggest deterrent to the Ravens success in 2013 was the horrific play of the offensive line. Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times, good for second highest in the league and the running game was a putrid 30th in yards and a league worst in yards per carry (3.1).
The repairs won’t come easy and they won’t generate production immediately as offensive fronts take time to gel. Ozzie Newsome needs to: 1) Re-sign Eugene Monroe; 2) Closely monitor the rehabilitation of Kelechi Osemele; 3) Sign a cerebral veteran center; 4) Take the line calls away from Marshal Yanda; and 5) Draft or sign a road grader at right tackle. Michael Oher, nice story but that movie is so over.
If the Ravens want toimprove their odds to make it back to the Super Bowl, it starts with an overhauled offensive front.
2. Fix the Running Game
Word is that the Ravens changed the strength and conditioning regiment of running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, emphasizing power while apparently sacrificing agility and explosiveness. 86 that program! Why the Ravens felt compelled to noodle around with what was arguably one of the best 1-2 punches in any NFL backfield just wreaks of arrogance. Let these two battle it out and may the best man be the featured back, contract be damned. And while you’re at it Ozzie, find a third down back – one who can actually convert a 3rd & 1 so your offensive coordinator doesn’t feel compelled to inexplicably empty the backfield in such situations.
3. Coaching Staff/Front Office Changes
Speaking of offensive coordinators, clearly it’s time for a new one who has complete control and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. The Ravens offense compared to the league’s best is like comparing rotary phones to smart phones. The Ravens offensive game planning has been anything but smart – just predictable and unimaginative. It’s time to find a fearless play caller who can instill the same qualities in an offense sorely lacking an identity.
Like their counterparts on offense, the Ravens defense lacks an identity as well. The bend but don’t break mentality of Dean Pees might help keep the team in games for three quarters but it breaks down in the fourth when opposing offenses go into full blown attack mode. The Ravens gave up 63 points each during the first and third quarters this season and 89 and 134 in the second and fourth quarters respectively. To put that fourth quarter in perspective, the Ravens 2000 defense gave up 165 points in total during their championship season.
The Ravens have always been an opportunistic defense built on multiple looks – hence the defense formerly known as organized chaos. They once forced turnovers and scored points. This season the Ravens were ranked 19th overall in forced turnovers with 24, only one of which went for a score. They forced just 5 fumbles all season and were tied for 17th in sacks (40) after gathering 28 sacks through the first 8 games of the season. The pass rush fizzled markedly down the stretch, as the Ravens were only able to take down opposing QB’s 3 times during the last 5 games of the season.
Lastly, the Ravens have focused upon bringing in smart players with strong character and while that is generally a good strategy it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a few players with some attitude – the type that John Harbaugh seems to have flushed out of the roster. Anquan Boldin brought attitude on offense and Bernard Pollard, love him or not, brought attitude to the defense. As one league exec shared with me, “A little thug isn’t a bad thing in the NFL.”
4. Obtain a Big WR
Despite a second half fade Torrey Smith showed improvement in 2013 and given his great work ethic and the fact that he’ll be playing for his next contract in 2014, it stands to reason that the improvement will continue. That said, Smith doesn’t possess the ball skills or the ability to consistently make contested catches. The back shoulder throw disappeared from the Ravens offense despite its development in 2012 – perhaps another thing lost with Boldin’s departure.
The Ravens, if they want to get the most out of their investment in Joe Flacco, need a big bodied, big play receiver with a big wingspan who can help mitigate Flacco’s accuracy issues and improve his efficiency in the red zone.
5. Draft a Quarterback
It’s time that the Ravens bring in a quarterback who could be the possible successor to Joe Flacco and one who could be a reliable backup in the event of injury. Flacco’s contract was written like a 3-year deal and both he and the team’s front office will have to reset the deal after the 2015 season. It would make sense for the club to have a young player with starter potential in the wings in the event that the sides can’t come to terms on an extension for the 2016 season and beyond. Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and Pat Moriarty can’t afford to let Flacco and his agent Joe Linta hold them hostage in 2 seasons like they did after Super Bowl XLVII. And don’t think that they won’t.
“I’ve never in my life seen a dumber move”, Linta said about the Ravens handling of Flacco before the 2012 season.
“I guess people can say, ‘Well, Joe was dumb, too.’ It could have been [dumb], God forbid, if he got hurt. But $1 million to [Ravens owner] Steve Bisciotti six years from now? That’s like 100 bucks for you or me today.
“I’m not apologetic for the fact [the new landmark $120.6M contract] is really a three-year deal, there’s no way they can afford $29 million a couple of years from now, I’m not apologetic. They chose to walk away.”
Doesn’t sound like a guy who won’t stick it to the Ravens again if given the chance.