This summer while chatting with team owner Steve Bisciotti in his magnificent office at The Castle, one of our topics was the then upcoming season. We shared the opinion that 2015 would be a promising one for the Baltimore Ravens.
I can’t speak for Steve but my logic for the most part, was grounded in what I perceived to be clear enhancements to the team’s secondary. I believed that with a healthier unit, strategic additions and another year of experience, the Ravens defensive backfield would realize the same level of improvement this season that its offensive line realized in 2014.
After all (I reasoned), the Ravens were just one bad game last season by the secondary away from advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the fourth time under John Harbaugh.
It’s still early, and clearly four games do not make a season, but 2015 feels like an uphill battle. The secondary has yet to gel as I had imagined and I’m not sure that they will. I get that it takes time to mesh as a unit but when do they flip the switch? When do they become dependable?
Answers are forthcoming and hopefully they’re good ones.
But even if the secondary eventually becomes what some expected it to be during training camp, will it be enough? Do the Ravens have enough firepower on offense to compete in today’s NFL – a league that is closer to the style of Arena Football than that of the smash-mouth variety that once characterized the AFC North?
The Ravens seem to be stuck in that smash-mouth mindset. Harbaugh, a Toledo, OH native whose football preferences are rooted in the old-school, Big 10, Midwest style, embraces the run-first mentality. Ozzie Newsome appears to be right there with him.
But the game has changed, and the Ravens seem slow to adapt.
Teams run more no-huddle. They spread the field with formations and speed. They run from the spread with single backs and force league personnel execs to focus on speed and quickness – even at the linebacker position where a player’s 40 time is more important than brute strength at the point of attack.
This isn’t your father’s NFL. It’s not even our NFL anymore.
Consider the Ravens coordinators – impressive resumes no doubt but has the modern game slipped from them a bit? Dean Pees and Marc Trestman average 63 years of age while the coordinators of divisional foes Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland average 54, 46 and 37.
Old habits die hard.
Might those old habits influence their personnel decisions?
Do they fall into their comfort zone of drafting big guys, where clearly they’ve been far more successful than at wide receiver? Are their scouts just that much better at projecting big players than pass catchers and therefore those skill sets influence the draft board in a way that downgrades receiving talent?
Consider some of the players chosen since Harbaugh arrived with their corresponding pick in the draft:
Now consider some of the receivers the Steelers have drafted during the same timeframe:
Granted, there have been some misses from the Steelers such as Limas Tweed (53) and the jury is still out on Sammie Coates (87). But the point is the Steelers either value the position of wide receiver more than the Ravens or they are just better at evaluating the position.
This offseason the Ravens clearly needed a return specialist who could also provide a little suddenness at wide receiver. After all, Michael Campanaro while a playmaker when he takes the field is far from dependable. On the board at No. 136 in the 2015 NFL Draft was Stefon Diggs. The Ravens opted instead for a rangy project at corner named Tray Walker.
I get that it’s easy to throw stones after the fact. I get that injuries are part of the game and the team’s No. 1 pick Breshad Perriman is dealing with one of the “all-time slowest healing sprained PCLs ever”. And I get that the draft is hardly a science.
It’s more an art form.
And unfortunately when it comes to the art form of drafting wide receivers, a vital position in today’s NFL, the Ravens are still in a paint-by-numbers class while the Steelers are in the company of Van Gogh.
Sometimes the truth hurts.