I have to tell you, this is a very difficult letter for me to author. By nature I’m the optimistic type particularly when it comes to the Ravens but Sunday’s game against the Bengals was a reality check and 8 games into the season it appears to me there are far too many holes, too many questions surrounding your squad and not enough answers. But if there are enough answers, I trust that you will uncover them.
You see I dig your coaching style and I am very impressed by the staff you’ve assembled. I also respect the team organizationally from top to bottom and therefore when in doubt I trust in the castle’s judgment. After all, you guys are the professionals, right?
That said, given my job and the fact that it begs for my objectivity I must assess the Ravens fairly and what I see isn’t very promising.
We are now half way through the season and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen enough to know what we can expect for the balance of the 2009 season. Given your upbringing and value system I find it surprising just how undisciplined and fundamentally unsound your team is. Against the Bengals you had 45 yards in penalties and 44 yards of net offense in the first half. The Ravens are the second most penalized team in the league and the tackling is abysmal. To make matters worse the defense appears out of position far too often.
It just doesn’t add up John. It flies in the face of what I believe is the core of your coaching style. I would think that the Harbaugh DNA would dictate fielding teams that are prepared, fundamentally sound, capable of adjusting on the fly and disciplined. Unfortunately we see very little of this. Your team loses its collective head and they get caught up emotionally in games and that undermines preparedness, fundamentals and discipline.
We all expected more. I’m sure you did as well.
Expectations are a funny thing. It’s a bit like hope and it can mess with your mind. Overachieve and you are a hero. Underachieve and you are a goat. In 2008 we expected very little from the team yet you delivered. The bar was set low and you soared above it like LeBron James on an uncontested dunk by reaching the AFC Championship Game – just one bad possession from the Super Bowl.
So with the return of most key players, a roster augmented by more youthful talent plus a more mature and learned Joe Flacco the team set its sights on Miami this February. And why not?
Today anyone that realistically thinks the Ravens have a chance to go to the Super Bowl just hasn’t been watching. The team doesn’t have the explosiveness on either side of the football to strike fear in the hearts of playoff caliber opponents. Offensively you don’t have a difference maker at any of the receiver positions including tight end. You’ve proven that you can get away with that against an average secondary but you can’t and you won’t again against solid cover guys.
Defensively your front seven looks very old and it happened seemingly overnight. Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce have dropped off measurably and consequently, Haloti Ngata is neutralized by double teams. The inside linebacker position not manned by Ray Lewis has been inconsistent at best.
I don’t need to tell you that the secondary – one that the entire organization swore improved, is regularly torched and the lack of a consistent pass rush exposes them badly.
You really are in a tough spot John and I know you have to put on your brave face and pretend to manage the season one game at a time but desperation has to have paid you a visit. It is probably knocking on your door right now.
At (4-4) you are running out of mulligans. Three more losses and you are likely done and at this point you can’t possibly believe that your guys stand a chance against the Steelers or the Colts. Without a pass rush Messrs. Roethlisberger and Manning will compare playing the Ravens to 7 on 7 drills in camp. Cynics might even say that the rubber trash cans have a better chance of sacking Manning than any of your defenders.
So from my vantage point, you’ll need to run the table outside of those games just to land at 9-7 for the season. With a record like that, you will need a ton of help to attain a post season berth. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but I’d say it’s unlikely.
So what do you do? Pack it in?
Again, quitting isn’t in your DNA.
You will fight the good fight but while you’re at it, don’t stick your head in the sand and ignore what is going on around you. And please, do not let foolish pride cloud your judgment in making personnel decisions.
So with all this in mind and understanding that I have your back (remember my business is really tied to your success) here’s what I suggest you do to help make the most of your eight remaining games:
- Keep Steven Hauschka: Look Robbie Gould was once in a Ravens camp and he’s moved on and he’s done very well in Chicago. There’s really nothing else out there that’s any better. Personally I thought Graham Gano was the better option but you didn’t so commit to Babyface.
- De-activate Demetrius Williams: For some reason Cam doesn’t like him and he offers nothing to special teams. You used a second round pick on Paul Kruger who does what – rush the passer. What is your team’s biggest weakness? Rushing the passer. Hello, McFly? Don’t tell me it’s because Kruger doesn’t play because he doesn’t do anything on special teams. When is the last time Williams made a special teams tackle? As each week passes, Kruger looks more and more like Dan Cody Part II.
- Bring back Lo Neal: I get that you drafted Le’Ron McClain to be a fullback but sometimes a little smash mouth is in order and McClain needs that lead blocker to get it done. He doesn’t have to be active every week, but when the shoe fits, pound away.
- Shake up the secondary: Start Lardarius Webb at one corner and Foxworth at the other corner. Let F. Washington (“F” stands for fragile as in fra-gee-lay) be the nickel. Replace Dawan Landry with Haruki Nakamura. Dawan Landry is another one who couldn’t cover a cadaver with a blanket. Place Chris Carr on the weekly inactive list…please!
- Let Webb return punts: I don’t want to hear about giving him too much too soon. See ball in air; catch it; run to daylight real fast. It’s not rocket science.
- Move Kelley Washington to the No. 2 receiver slot: Let Clayton operate out of the slot and come in as the No. 3 pass catcher. Clayton and Mason are too much alike and the bigger target might be able to haul in the passes that the smurf-like receivers can’t physically get to. And while you’re at it, let L.J. Smith play some for Todd Heap before he blows out a hamstring in the shower.
- Bench Kelly Gregg: Clearly he’s not the same player and if you are trying to save face for a guy who has been underappreciated by the league and the Pro Bowl voters, ok I get it. Put him on IR and say his decline is due knee problems. Let Kelly Talavou and/or Bryant McKinney take his reps.
- Sit Chris Chester and put Marshal Yanda at right guard
- Configure a speed rush package that consists of Suggs, Jameel McClain, Antwan Barnes and Kruger. And while we are on the subject, please tell Suggs to just kill the quarterback. Make him watch The Waterboy before each game but by all means send him directly at the quarterback and stop doing opposing QB’s a favor and drop him into coverage. That’s like asking Bono to stop singing and go play bass for U2.
- Run out of the shotgun more often: Take a look at the film. Your most productive running plays are almost always from the spread formation in the gun.
- Prescribe some football Viagra for your defensive coordinator.
- Implement a new system that rewards or penalizes the players for penalties: If they get 2 or fewer penalties in a game, give them an extra day off; five or more penalties results in no days off.
If you have read this far, maybe you are open to suggestions or maybe you are doubled over in laughter thinking, “Why does this crackpot journalist with a two-bit website think I would listen to him?” I have some site visitors that might say the same.
But at this point John, you have to admit, your way isn’t working given the talent on your football team.
Maybe my way could help.