Identity Crisis

Harbaugh SB XLVII

The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2013 campaign championing their newly coined mantra, “Here We Are.” Well that one sort of backfired, didn’t it?

For the first time in six seasons the Ravens are on the outside looking in at the NFL postseason. So “Here We Are” and it’s not such a pretty view and the seats aren’t all that comfortable. Yet that being said it is a vantage point that the Ravens need to experience.

Being knocked out of the playoffs in many ways is a blessing in disguise for the team. It forces the organization to swallow some humble pie and take a harder look at the flaws that tarnish the club and the obstacles that will require some slick maneuvering.

Fortunately the league is flawed by design so getting back in the postseason mix isn’t such a slippery slope for such a well-run organization.

But had the Ravens managed to squeak in to the playoffs yesterday in Cincinnati they may have been lured into denial and opted to pass on the offseason surgery that the roster and coaching staff needs.

Sitting at home for New Year’s and the month of January will force a more introspective look and with so many areas of weakness, it’s unlikely that John Harbaugh can convince his boss to sit on the sidelines this winter.

Owner Steve Bisciotti is a problem solver and a facilitator of debate, the goal of which is to seek innovative solutions. And this offseason, there will be plenty to debate.

You know the team’s weaknesses just as they do. But a win yesterday would have masked some problems and they might not be perceived as severe as they are if they had kept their playoff streak alive.

No team is perfect. The NFL is about exposing opposing imperfections more adeptly than your own are exposed. It’s the survival of the fittest.

But before the team addresses the many problems, they may want to ditch the Here We Are credo and instead ask, “Who Are We?”

The Ravens have no identity. They were once a smash mouth offense and now their running backs and quarterback just get smashed. Defensively they were once organized chaos as they confused opposing QB’s and forced turnovers. Now, they are a bend-but-don’t-break defense that looks confused during crunch time.

So what do the Ravens want to be?

How do they plan to get there?

How can they get their high-priced talent to perform to the level of their contracts and do they have the right coaches in place to help make that happen?

Many will give Dean Pees a hall pass but is he deserving of one or is it that the offense is under such heavy fire that we dismiss the inefficiencies of Pees’ game planning? Is he really the right guy for the job?

Pees will be 65-years old next season. Can he bring the prerequisite energy or will John Harbaugh pass the defensive coordinator torch along to another old friend, Steve Spagnuolo who has quietly camped out on the sidelines this fall as the “Senior Defensive Assistant”?

Jim Caldwell’s offense was a mess during his first full season as an offensive coordinator. The team’s $120M man failed to progress and if anything Joe Flacco regressed. When you pay a man that kind of money he has to play to his pay grade otherwise it will eventually become a stranglehold on the team.

Is Caldwell the guy to facilitate that?

And then there’s this year’s favorite scapegoat for fans, Juan Castillo.

The move to bring on yet another Harbaugh buddy was a mistake from jump street, not because Castillo is a bad football coach – he absolutely is not. He was only doing the job he was asked to do.

The blame lies with the enabler of that debacle, John Harbaugh who now runs a sideline without defacto team leaders, without over-the-top personalities and without the potential of any assistant coach on his staff one day threatening his job.

“Who Are We?” is the question the organization needs to address this offseason.

The answers will influence the necessary changes.

And there should be many otherwise it could be “Here We Are AGAIN!” next January.

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About Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi
Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin...more

21 Raves on “Identity Crisis

  1. TL on said:

    Well said, Tony, and spot-on!

    Organization may also want to address the total lack of mental discipline that has crippled this team this past year; even in yesterday’s loss, the team once again demonstrated that they are just not good enough to overcome bone-headed misques that were evident all season long, and yesterday as well.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Joshua on said:

    You make it seem as if Harbaugh is the first and only coach to ever hire “friends” and assistants he is familiar with. Castillo was once a highly regarded offensive line coach in Philly and Spags oversaw a Super Bowl winning defense in New York. And I don’t think Pees and Caldwell’s careers intersected with Harbaugh before they arrived here, although I could be wrong. Everyone refers to the NFL coaching ranks as a fraternity, because more often than not a head coach knows or has coached with someone he hires on their staff. Yes, we need an identity, especially on offense; a new offensive coordinator would be great. But if we do make that change, hopefully Harbaugh will hire someone that he knows and can trust. That’s what the good coaches do.

  3. Middle River Terp on said:

    Any chance they took a look at Schwartz for DC. Not a Harbaugh guy, but might be young enough to challenge the status quo. I would like to see this.

    • Tony LombardiTony Lombardi on said:

      MRT, not seeing that as a good fit personality and style wise. And then there’s the little rift Schwartz had with little brother Jim…

  4. Troy on said:

    Was there a reason why Flacco rarely passed when under center? When Flacco lined up under center, they ran. If they use the pistol, 75% off the time they run. Shotgun pass 85% of the time. The offense was so predictable, I saw it from home?

  5. PG County Ravens on said:

    On target! I hated the “Here We Are” theme! Although it was very accurate because we were exposed. Humble pie of not making playoffs will certainly avoid complacency!! We must get back to “Playing Like Ravens!”

  6. Phil form Frostburg on said:

    Of all the team’s problems, two horrendous organizational decisions define this season: 1) getting rid of Boldin for a difference of $2M and 2) whoever allowed Castillo to destroy the OL. Reverse those two actions, and the team is 11-5 and likely repeat as division champs with no further impact to future salary cap. We can only hope Ozzie and DeCosta eat a little humble pie and don’t make the same mistakes with Suggs and Rice while addressing the true core problems of the team in its predictable offensive schemes and thin talent at every offensive position besides QB.

  7. Mac In Va on said:

    When we were a smash mouth defense and a team that would run it down your throat we knew who we were. That was our identity. Now we have a 120 million dollar quarterback with an offensive line that can’t protect him long enough to throw to playmakers we don’t have.

    “We are here”


  8. Cal on said:

    All interesting points but the one thing that I could never get past was our inability to execute. Coaches can drill and drill and drill until they are blue in the face but week after week we saw the team fail to execute. Specifically the offense but the defense was at mach to blame as well.

    What I would blame on the coaches is their inability to adjust. Whether during a game or during the season. At some point you have to look at what is happening and say this isn’t working. Then you make adjustments.

    Bottom line, we have a lot of adjustments to make in the off season.

    • Ron Keefer on said:

      I totally agree that the coaches showed inability to adjust. One must keep in mind those adjustments should come from the top of the coaching staff. Harbaugh set back and never took control of caches and team, it was his job to make adjustments when they weren’t working. With this being said is he just another vanilla coach riding on coaches and players from the past? This is his first year without true team leaders and harbaugh didn’t make the cut, if he’s going to be the leader of the Ravens, He’s the one that needs to step up.

  9. Scott on said:

    Completely agree! Pees needs to go. I’m curious about Leslie Frazier as a new DC. He was part of the great ’85 Chicago Bears — he knows organized chaos. He and Harbaugh are close from their days in Philly together (after the Vikings game, NFL Films caught them exchanging “I love you man’s”). Spags would be a disaster. Agree that Castillo needs to go. I’d like to see Caldwell stay — I can’t blame h
    for this year’s offensive debacle. He didn’t trade Boldin and get Pitta and KO injured.

    Another benefit of missing the playoffs is for the first time since the 2008 draft, we won’t be drafting from from the bottom of every round (or worse). We got players like Flacco, Ngata and Suggs 2003-2008 because we kept having inconsistent W/L records year to year — which meant we kept replenishing our roster with playmakers.

    This year we need at least one playmaking tight end — even if we keep Pitta and Dickson. We need a Jamal Lewis-Eddie Lacy-LaGarette Blount type running back to beat up our division rivals and chew up the playclock.

    We need a ballhawking free safety (Elam is really a SS and has stone hands), a talented pass rushing DE or OLB, and more DL depth.

    Art Jones is leaving. Suggs will be cut. Ngata might get extended to reduce the cap. Monroe will be signed. Pitta will be asked to take a discount on what he had hoped to get before his injury. Graham will stay at the right price. Oher is gone. Wagner, Jensen and KO will all have to step up.

  10. joe d on said:

    THe offensive line problems began not with the hiring of Castillo but with the retirement of Matt Birk. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that everyone on the O line regressed this year. Without Birk making line calls the entire line was lost. Gradkowski is not the answer to the O line problems. They need to pick up an experienced center in free agency. Next they need to replace Caldwell with an experienced OC. Caldwell is a nice man but he was never an OC in the pros before last year. Fix those two problems and you will see a vastly improved Ravens’ team next year.

  11. Nancy on said:

    I agree with you Tony, if we went further into the post season, real introspection may not have occurred. I am not sure however, what Coach Harbaugh has done to you to deserve your wrath, regardless how subtle it occasionally comes out but comes out it does!

  12. JerryB on said:

    Great post, Tony! The Ravens obviously decided after the Super Bowl last year to become a passing team, which may be the reason for Castillo’s hiring and the predominant “spread the field” offensive sets. However, the loss of Pitta, coupled with the decimation of the OL, severely hampered those plans, virtually leaving them without an identity as they literally spent the year plodding along! In the new NFL passing era, it’s hard to argue with that decision; however, you need the personnel and the Ravens didn’t have it. So, OL will be an obvious focal point this offseason. That being said, if Caldwell were the answer as OC, they probably would not have assigned Hostler to assist him, so a change is needed there as well. As for Pees, which rhymes with, PLEASE…….replace him! The defense started to come together around midseason only to regress as the season wore on more because of strategy more than personnel. They appear to be young, fast and talented, but in need of better direction than they got from Pees! As for Flacco, he regressed along with the ENTIRE offense behind a horrendous OL that got him beat up week in and week out! If Flacco didn’t EARN his big paycheck by his post season performance last year, then he was never going to! Criticize him all you want, but this team would never have enjoyed their 5 year playoff run and Super Bowl Championship without him!!!!

    • RJ on said:

      I completely agree JerryB, but I think one thing should be clear by now, and that’s that Harb’s doesn’t bring in his cronies to make the team better, but to have people he knows and likes around that will do what he says without question or drama. Castillo was a disaster from the very start, and I believe every one of the multiple stories that have leaked out of the locker room all year about players complaining about both Juan and his horrible schemes that yeilded pitiful results.

      • JerryB on said:

        I read the same media reports about Castillo, and couldn’t agree more, RJ! Harbaugh has a nagging history of “cronyism” with Rosburg, Mattison, Cameron and now Castillo to name a few! While Harbaugh may have strengths when it comes to organization and keeping the team “fresh” for post season play, he has no “feel” for the game on game days and is not necessarily good at utilizing his available talent, not to mention his proverbial, “dog house”! It would come as no surprise if Bisciotti puts him on the “hot seat” despite the premature contract extension because, as he demonstrated with Billick, he has little tolerance for losing!

  13. Rick S on said:

    I totally agree about the need for surgery on the coaching staff. My concern is that we keep seeing the same problems from coach to coach (eg. Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell), so I tend to believe that the problem is in some significant part coming from the head coach and his directions to his coaching staff. Also, the Castillo disaster without any doubt points directly to the head coach. So does Cam Cameron.

  14. RJ on said:

    Without question, Castillo and Caldwell MUST go, and go this week! If we putz around and don’t pull the trigger now, then we risk letting real talent slip through our fingers. Caldwell should have never taken the OC job and should have tried to get a HC job last year when his iron was hot, because now he has been exposed for the hack that he is. I think last years play-off run was due more to Ray Lewis retiring/inspiring the team and the play of Boldin and Pitta and their chemistry with Flacco then anything else, given as these are literally the ONLY two recievers that Flacco has had ANY chemistry with. Letting Q go was 100% the fault of Harbs, who couldn’t handle anyone dare challenging him now that the General had retired. At the same time last year, Castillo was made the running back coach, and our running game regressed so much that it NEVER recovered. Then this year, you have every player that works under Castillo complain that he is as terrible as his schemes and that no one bought into his bizzare style or philosophy. The godawful results speak for themselve. That brings us to Pees, who completely regressed mid season at a time when we should have been dominating with all the talent we have on defense. It made no sense that in EVERY game, we collasped right on que in the 4th quarter when the game was always on the line since we never had a huge lead, and our lack of pressure on the QB was glaring. I honestly don’t know if Pees deserves to be brought back, but if he returns, there will have to be some massive adjustments next season.

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