Are The Ravens Offensive Woes on Ozzie?

Ozzie Interview

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.

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About Paul Lukoskie

Paul Lukoskie
Paul (aka WickedSolo) has been an avid football fan since he was a little kid. As former player himself (through college only...turning pro and having million dollar contracts and fame just sounded too overwhelming...or he's just a 5'11" 200lb guy who was only good enough to play D-3 ball...but who's...more

9 Raves on “Are The Ravens Offensive Woes on Ozzie?

  1. Ed in ON on said:

    This theory is totally twisted. We have just been bad at drafting offense: Boller, Redman, Cousins, Reid, Hale, Rabach, Terry, Chester, Mercier, Pashos, Travis Taylor, Patrick Johnson, Demetrius Williams, Darling, Clayton, Marcus Smith, David Reed, Ron Johnson,

    With the exception of our Pro Bowl RB, Jamal, and some 1st rounders: Yanda, Grubbs, and Heap, we basically missed on almost all of our offensive picks in the past 10 years until Joe, Ray Rice, KO and Torrey. And we could never get that big play WR to come here (see: trade for TO), with the exception of Mason and Boldin. So that combined with horrible QB play is why our offense was horrible, not Ozzie’s choosing defensive players over offensive players.

    And this past year was hardly Ozzie’s fault. He made a minimal commitment to McKinnie to bring back 4/5 of a offensive line that DOMINATED in the playoffs. He brought back ALL OF THE SKILL POSITION PLAYERS (Pre-Pitta injury) except 1: Boldin. That was 9/11 starters from last years offense. Boldin was not a good value, and there was no one out there on the market who was a good replacement. You can’t blame Ozzie for regression from KO, Rice, Pierce, and Oher, Pitta’s injury, Yanda’s starting off slow etc.

    The one big miss which sucks, and it is similar to your Jeffrey/Upshaw scenario is not grabbing Keenan Allen in the 3rd round. He is a stud, not sure why most of the league passed on him so many times. (Terrance Williams was another 3rd round WR who was very good this year). We would have had to trade up, but it would have been worth it.

    • Grey on said:

      Absolutely! Of late the biggest component to the team’s offensive failures has been drafting bad O-linemen. In retrospect, we have had stiffs like Reid, Harewood, and Gradkowski really affect the whole offense. Which is particularly galling condisering the good players on the board when they were picked.

    • John P on said:

      This article appears pretty twisted to me as well. Great points, but let’s go back to last year. Our offense rocked once Cam Cameron was fired. Joe got great protection, we had the best one-two running back combo in the league.

      Q + Torrey + Jacoby was unstoppable and let’s not forget Pitta.

      So it’s unfair to say that we never had talent on offense. True, we lost Q this year. But all Marlon Brown did was catch 7 TDs. True, he didn’t have quite as many catches, or as many yards as Q, but he WAS productive.

      Now I know there were injuries this year. I get that. But we DO have offensive TALENT. And I guarantee Belichick would have been more productive with it.

      So while Ozzie’s not perfect (Kyle Boller anyone?), let’s not say he has ignored the offensive side of the ball either…

    • purpleneonexpress on said:

      You nailed it Ed, Ozzie’s Achilles Heel has been the drafting of O lineman. Any OL that was not a first round pick has been a bust, Gradkowski is the latest example of that. You could probably say the same thing about the wideouts, except that even his first rounds picks don’t pan out.

      Ozzie, who was on the offensive side of the ball as a player seems to have a knack for picking good defensive players, but has a poor record with later round picks on the offensive side of the ball, in particular OL and WR.

      The teams that have solid offensive lines do it with later round picks with maybe a stud mixed in there somewhere, the 49er’s are an example of that.

      Me thinks Ozzie needs to step up his game, the scouts need to step up there game and the Ravens need to draft much better in the later rounds when it comes to players on the offensive side of the ball.

      The Gradkowski’s of the world are backups on bad teams at best. Ozzie got do better.

      • Ed in ON on said:

        Purpleexpress-
        I disagree with you about him missing on offense. He has had trouble at WR, OL, and is 1 for 2 at QB. He has hit on Pitta (4th), Rice (2nd) Pierce (3rd) KO (3rd) Torrey (2nd) recently.
        Offensive line has been pretty bad in the mid rounds lately, but I would only consider guys taken in the first 5 rounds as misses. The rest are flyers. He has a few hits, although most of them were better elsewhere: Rabach(3rd) and Chester(2nd) are/were solid players elsewhere, Yanda(3rd) and Muliitalo(4th) were total HR’s, Jason Brown(4th) gave us 1 really good year. So I would say that is actually a pretty good track record. It has just been a poor track record lately, with misses on Terry, Reid, Cousins, Pashos. The jury is stlill out on Gradkowski; it took Brown 3 years before he came on strong.
        I think if you told most GM’s they would get 1 perennial Pro Bowler, 1 above avg. starter(Mulitalo), and 3 solid starters (Rabach, Chester, and Brown) with another 5 misses in rounds 2-5 over an 8 year period, they would be ecstatic. I just think our expectations are way too high, since he pulls starting d-lineman and LB’s out of the 6th and 7th rounds.
        And the niners have 1st rounders at 4 out of the 5 starting OL positions, FYI.

  2. Bruce_Almty on said:

    A totally speculative article but an interesting premise. Had Ozzie actually written it it would be significant but since it was written about him it will remain conjecture.

  3. Reading Comments on said:

    Going from 2012 back to 2008 the team based on points was ranked 10, 12, 16 (Flacco’s best year if that makes sense), 9, 11.
    This year we had no ground game, combined with very poor line play, no pass catching tight end for most of the season, and no real physical receiver to muscle up on the ball when needed. A defense that on paper looked much better then it was.
    Just an off year.
    The last seven SB Winners did not make the playoffs the following season.
    So………
    We have 2 SB Wins in under 2 decades. 4 Teams have never played in the SB, and 14 teams, yeah, 14 have never won the SB. And the vaunted (Cough) Steelers took 40 years to win a SB.

  4. Thomas on said:

    “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.”

    I’m sure the defensive focus of last year’s offseason had nothing to do with the fact we lost half a dozen starters on that side of the ball… I guess ignoring important facts like that is convenient when launching a rather far-fetched theory.

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