It is 22 January 2014…do you know where your Offensive Coordinator is?
Neither do the Ravens.
As of right now, the following names have been “confirmed” as interviewed and/or had some sort of contact with the Ravens regarding the vacancy.
Kyle Shanahan, Kirby Wilson, Jim Hostler, Ben McAdoo (signed in New York), and Scott Linehan.
According to John Harbaugh, the Ravens want an offensive coordinator that will feature an “attacking” down field game plan. That clearly falls more in line with the Air Coryell offense that coordinators like Cam Cameron, Rob Chudzinski, and Norv Turner feature. Yet, the Ravens fired Cam Cameron and by all accounts have not had any interest in Norv Turner or Rob Chudzinski.
Scott Linehan threw the ball downfield quite a bit as OC of the Detroit Lions, but how could he not with big-armed quarterback Matt Stafford and the best receiver to take an NFL field since Jerry Rice?
So, do Shanahan and McAdoo represent coordinators that like to attack down the field? One could certainly argue that McAdoo comes from an offense that incorporates a lot of vertical pass plays, but both he and Shanahan’s offensive principles are philosophically grounded in the West Coast Offense.
And that leaves Hostler and Wilson, both positional coaches who are reportedly very well liked by their players. Yet it is hard to overlook that Hostler’s experience as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco was dreadful and Wilson has never been a coordinator.
So what gives?
At this point it seems like the Ravens aren’t even sure which direction they want to go. Maybe it doesn’t even matter who the Ravens appoint as the next offensive coordinator?
Maybe there is an inherent theme that many of us have missed over the years. Maybe it isn’t John Harbaugh’s apparent conservative approach. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with John Harbaugh’s seeming penchant for working with coaches he has a history with. Maybe, it doesn’t have anything to do with John Harbaugh at all.
Maybe, just maybe, the mediocre offensive production is more of a philosophical directive originating from The Wizard of Oz himself.
If one is able to weed through the endless “Harbaugh is ruining this team” rhetoric in the Who Will The Ravens Hire to be OC thread, you can glean some salient points. One in particular was made by JimZipCode whose overall premise was that it might not matter who the offensive coordinator is. JimZipCode highlighted these points:
- It has been more than a decade of mediocre offensive football that is predicated on a dominant running attack.
- This is combined with good-to-great defensive units.
- It is extremely difficult to keep a good team together in the salary cap era.
- Offensive players are (depending on position) typically more expensive than defensive players.
- The highest paid offensive players make more than the highest paid defensive players. The second highest paid offensive players make more than the second highest paid defensive players and so on.
JimZipCode’s premise is that because of the cost of offensive players, it is a lot easier (and more valuable) to build an exceptionally talented defense instead of an exceptionally talented offense. Having a top-10 defensive unit will still yield enough cap room to (hopefully) net an average offensive performance.
Conversely, spending significant funds on the offensive side of the ball will leave very little cap space to build a competent defense because of the overwhelming cost for fielding a very good offensive unit.
Furthermore, history has shown that teams with decent offenses and great defenses can do well in the post-season; well enough to even get to the Super Bowl and win. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks are a prime, recent example of this.
*Note: this does not necessarily mean that a top tiered offense cannot win a Super Bowl or challenge for one. It just simply means that a team with a top tiered defensive unit is probably more likely to make the playoffs than a team without.
This could be why the Ravens constantly seem to be re-stocking the defensive side of the ball rather than fully investing in the offense. Ozzie Newsome has always had a penchant for value in the draft and value in free agency (e.g. “Right Player, Right Price”). Yet, even after the offense essentially carried the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012, Ozzie and the Ravens maintained their ideology in free agency and the draft by signing guys like Michael Huff, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil, and using their first three draft picks on Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Brandon Williams.
Other than Marlon Brown (who was an undrafted free agent acquisition), the offensive players the Ravens did draft (Kyle Juszczyk, Ricky Wagner, and Aaron Mellette) never really saw the field outside of Special Teams and spot-duty! This would also help to explain why Anquan Boldin was considered expendable: his cost was not as valuable to Ozzie as Huff, Spears, Canty, and Dumervil because (at the time) it was believed that all of those guys would be starters on the defensive side of the ball.
Knowing that Ozzie is about value might explain why the Ravens have consistently fielded and built top-tiered defensive units and scraped by on the offensive (more expensive) side of the ball.
Past offensive contracts to guys like Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap may also lend to why Ozzie is more interested in building a stout defensive unit. At the time, those guys were expensive and seeing their production being replicated (or close to it) by younger, less expensive players in their rookie contracts like Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and Torrey Smith.
Then along came Joe Flacco…
Up until Flacco, the Ravens (Ozzie) were able to use the inadequacies of the quarterback position to justify investing in the defense. Big contracts were paid out to Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Chris McAllister, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Lardarius Webb while they skimped on the offensive side of the ball.
That was how they won ball games back then.
Then Flacco and Ray Rice enter the picture in Baltimore and the Ravens started a 5 consecutive season playoff run. Yet the defensive units were still really good, so perhaps Ozzie felt it was time to throw a few Benjamins at the offense.
Shortly thereafter a big contract was dolled out for Ray Rice. Following the Super Bowl victory, Flacco signed an NFL record contract. This off-season the Ravens are going to have to re-sign Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta. Neither of those players will command top dollar, but they won’t be cheap either. Another upcoming contract that WILL be expensive is Torrey Smith.
Suddenly Ozzie is faced with a dilemma.
His way of investing in the “value” of the defense won’t work now that they’ve opened their coffers for Flacco and Rice. But now they must spend on the offense and it must happen this off-season.
Ozzie is clearly having some growing pains with this new approach, but if they wanted to maintain the “value” defensive approach, then they shouldn’t have forked over so much money to Rice and Flacco. What’s done is done and they had better hope that Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, John Simon, and all of the other defensive selections over the past few years will start to pan out and play at a starter’s level during their rookie contracts. Otherwise it is going to be tough moving forward; especially when the time comes to re-negotiate Flacco’s contract.
Rather than falling into his comfort zone and play it safe by drafting a Courtney Upshaw, Ozzie is going to have to take a leap of faith and lean towards an Alshon Jeffery instead (Jeffery went 10 picks after Upshaw).
So, while we are all looking at Harbaugh as the culprit, it would seem that it has been Ozzie all along and Harbaugh just completely bought into the corporate structure of how to consistently field winning teams. The mantra of a strong defense, strong running game, and average passing attack dates back to Harbaugh’s roots as an assistant to Bo Schembechler at Michigan.
Here’s hoping that the next offensive coordinator can convince Ozzie (and Harbs) that it is good value to give Flacco a solid offensive line and it is good value giving Flacco more than 1 legitimate receiving option.
If this year’s draft resembles last year’s draft, then the 2014 season may closely resemble the 2013 season.
And we all heard loud and clear how Steve Bisciotti feels about that.