The path to the playoffs is clear for the 2016 Ravens. Win their final three games and they’ll be AFC North Champions and guaranteed at least one playoff game at M&T Bank stadium (it would be the first such game since “Ray’s Last Ride”). It would be nice and would appease a portion of the fan base that’s been frustrated with the team’s postseason absence two of the last three years. It’d be, in a way, like that Dolphins game. It’ll feel good for a week, and some people will gladly sip that purple kool aid, but is it really what’s in the best interest of this franchise long term?
Even if you are among those who believe the Ravens can win out, is it realistic to think this team can actually make a legitimate run? The Ravens and their fans got a taste of what a playoff team looks like this past Monday night. Despite being gifted two touchdowns on Patriots special teams miscues and being handed a red zone interception, John Harbaugh’s squad couldn’t even cover the spread let alone win the game. They were outclassed, outplayed, and clearly out-coached. Some have danced around it, alluded to it and hinted at it. I’ll come right out and say it: the Ravens need a fresh start, and John Harbaugh needs to go.
There’s no discounting what Harbaugh has done over the last eight seasons. He rallied the team last year when there was little to play for – no easy task. He led the Ravens to their second Lombardi and he’s a good motivator of men. But what he’s done in the past and his motivational methods frankly aren’t enough anymore.
The Ravens are on the verge of missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. It’s not a coincidence that their struggles started when Ray Lewis hung up his cleats and Ed Reed hopped a plane to Houston. While both players’ skill sets had diminished, their leadership skills had not. Harbaugh walked into a player-driven team in 2008, an ideal situation for a coach. While he did a good job balancing those strong personalities, the last four years have exposed him as a mediocre coach.
In recent years, the Ravens have looked slow. They’ve been frequently outsmarted and overwhelmed by their opponents’ game plans and coaches. On several occasions this season the Ravens have won the turnover battle but still lost the game, including on Monday night. That’s a sign of bad coaching. Harbaugh has been arrogant with his play calling, abrupt and defensive in response to fair questions by the media, and has made poor in-game decisions that have directly led to losses.
While the coach is obviously never on the field, his top priority should always be to put his team in the best position to win the game. On several occasions this year, an in-game decision by Harbaugh was the number one reason the team lost the game. He’s passed on points when he should have taken them and his clock management continues to be maddening.
A lot is made of the constant turnover at offensive coordinator. Marty Mornhinweg is the Ravens’ fifth play caller in four years and Harbaugh passed on Adam Gase for Marc Trestman two years ago. He refuses to hire young and innovative offensive minds. Instead he hires older coaches with ties to his days in Philadelphia like Juan Castillo and Mornhinweg. For whatever reason, he can’t get the offense right. He can’t figure out how to utilize his quarterback’s strong arm, how to confuse defenses, or simply how to run the ball enough. The Ravens have strong skill players in 2016; their coaches simply can’t figure out how to properly use them.
Making the playoffs would be nice. We’d all feel good about it, and it would be an added bonus to deny Pittsburgh the division crown. But it would once again, mask the Ravens’ shortcomings for another year.
This team needs a fresh start and it should start with the head coach.