If The Ravens Don’t Evolve They Will Fall

Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh

Maybe it was fitting that the two teams that ousted the Ravens from playoff contention were the Patriots and the Bengals. Think about what these two teams represent from a competitive standpoint.

In New England, you have the team that the Ravens are constantly locking horns with. Through the years, the Ravens have undoubtedly closed the gap, and finally overcame their nemesis last year. But the Patriots are still ahead of the curve when it comes to coaching prowess and simply outworking the rest of the league. They’ll find the cracks in any team’s armor. When they get knocked down a few notches, they get back to the top by reinventing themselves.

In Cincinnati, you have a team that can have a slew of mental lapses. But boy are they talented. And they flashed that talent all over the field this past Sunday. They have the explosive players that the Ravens lack, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They also have the hot shot offensive coordinator (Jay Gruden) with the type of killer instinct the Baltimore offensive coaches only show in flashes. He operates his offense more like a gunslinger than an ancient swashbuckler.

Against both squads, the Ravens were overwhelmed in two distinct ways. The Patriots’ staff tore the Ravens’ tired and predictable game plans to shreds while running circles around their coaches. The Bengals simply overcame the mistakes they made through sheer talent, tenacity, and big-play capability.

The films from these games should be seared in the minds of head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

The New England game is a reminder that the Ravens simply cannot win games based on talent alone. They need to scheme and put their players in the best possible positions to succeed. That means finding offensive coaches that approach every game differently, with an eye for attacking exact weaknesses. And they need to be creative and unpredictable. When the original game plan doesn’t work, they have to be able to make adjustments on the fly.

The Cincinnati game is a reminder that the Ravens don’t have many playmakers on either side of the ball. While Torrey Smith is a dynamic deep threat, the rest of the offensive skill players don’t scare anybody. On defense, splash plays (sacks, turnovers) were few and far between. Somehow the team has to find more “ball magnets” (as Ray Lewis likes to say).

Overall, the Ravens need to infuse their team with new blood, both in the personnel and coaching departments. On offense especially, the team must create an entirely new philosophy they can get behind. Whatever approach they choose should be fresh, innovative, and keep today’s NFL defenses on their toes.

In terms of players, the Ravens have to try to add more physically gifted players that can make plays outside of the framework of perfect execution. The organization has bypassed some skilled players in past drafts for high character individuals that overachieve. It’s time to start taking more calculated risks.

This offseason is a pivotal stage in the organization’s future. The Ravens can take the conservative approach and look at what the Patriots and Bengals did to them as blips on the radar screen.

OR…they can start punching back, make some real changes, and forcefully reclaim their spot at the top of the NFL’s food chain.

We’ll find out soon enough.

 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rob Carr

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About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh
Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports...more

38 Raves on “If The Ravens Don’t Evolve They Will Fall

  1. Boldin Raver on said:

    I’d bet all this conservatism wasn’t your complaint last when the Ravens went on their Super Bowl run. They schemed well enough in XLVII but got there on ceaseless physicality – think of Denver in the 6th quarter. There was no scheme left to fix the holes this team has on offense. Every fan knows they need to go after offense this season, and I have faith they will without taking your lousy advice that they become the chameleon, tricksie loving Patriots. Love them so much Dev? Go to Boston.

    • gweeto on said:

      Bottom line is get the O line fixed.Dump Oher get some serious studs in there who want to play.Make everyone accountable.Can`t block see ya.If you can`t run to set up pass, you will not win.Plus their schemes need to get out of the dark ages.Bunches,,,crossing plays,,,simple down and outs,,,,get people open.If they cant,,,put people in who can.Stop coddling these clowns.Cody is waste of human air.Save money and show his lazy ass the door.Oline,Oline,Oline.Then that opens u passing plays.CATCH THE DAM BALL,,,,FROM THE HARFORD COUNTY CHRONICLE.

    • Dev on said:

      Any decent business has to look at its competitors as a gage to improve themselves. That’s how the Ravens have gotten to this point, by looking at the Steelers and Patriots, and improving themselves to beat them.

      Despite what you might think of the Patriots, they are constantly able to find ways to win and make significant coaching adjustments to win with the talent they have. You want to keep ringing the bell that there was “no scheme left to fix the holes?”

      The Patriots won that game against the Ravens without their two starting OTs, starting TE, and their two rookie receivers that started much of the season. The Packers found a way to produce on offense without Rodgers by running the football and they STILL finished the season sixth in passing. There is absolutely no excuse for the Baltimore offense to be as bad as it was with the talent they still had left, line problems and all.

      As for the SB last year, don’t compare apples to oranges. Caldwell had a full arsenal of receivers and backs to work with and the offensive line came together at the right time. Even then, we saw a preview of his “run, run, pass” approach in both the Denver and NE games. The predictability eventually caught up.

      He obviously had some factors work against him this year with the line being a mess and the running game falling apart. But that’s the NFL, and that was my point in the first place — coaching adjustments can make up the difference.

      • BoldinRaver on said:

        First, gweeto nailed it. Next, of course you look at competition. Of course you adapt, of course you acquire talent (duh!) but that’s a straw man that sidesteps what you really are arguing. You want the Ravens to evolve, crawl onto land, forgo those trogloditian ways and be more like the Patriots — schemy, chameleon-like — Out-Belicheck Belicheck! — and that makes me want to retch. How many of the perennial loser franchises out there are always copying instead of perfecting their own identity? For the Ravens, the die was cast in 2000 when that style became the source of “Play Like a Raven.” Some fans wish we were a circus franchise. But I think most like and understand who they aspire to be: Physically dominant. Will-imposing, Soul-taking. Win ugly. Four yards, a pile of dust, bring out the stretchers! Let the defense play pissed and rested and let the players make glorious plays. That’s an aspiration the Ravens fell too short of this year. Nevertheless, Harbaugh fits here because, although he can scheme well, his seeks gold through attaining a certain style of play: As the game wears on, all the schemes have been tried and the game becomes about will and playmaking. He’s demonstrated success with that style, and I would argue that he’s owned Belicheck for TWO years. Benchmarking and imitation are not the same, and you, Dev, should focus on the critical difference, because therein lies what the Ravens do well. It looks blatantly opportunistic to me that you seek fundamental change after Belicheck finally gets a temporary reprieve. As for the Bengals, if we suck long enough to stockpile top draft picks we can be like them, too!!! Final point, I’m not arguing that Belicheck is a bad coach. (running zone blocking on us with second stringers … wow!) He is freaky dangerous, but don’t let a bad year make you blind to the fact that Harbaugh has great strengths as a tough minded communicator and motivator.

        • Dev on said:

          Boldin, it’s pretty clear that you completely missed my comparison to NE.

          From a schematic and planning standpoint, the Patriots are simply better and have been for a long time. Other aspects of coaching — motivation, intangibles, hard work — weren’t brought up by me. I’m purely looking at how NE makes adjustments game to game and can adapt accordingly. They get the most of their offensive players and create mismatches to put defenses in a bind. In that game the Ravens lost, they were working without two starting OTs, Gronk, their two biggest outside threats at WR, and lost Shane Vereen about a quarter or so into the game. Yet they still used Edelman and Amendola to make plays in the passing game.

          If you don’t like the Patriots, that’s fine. But what about Seattle? There is an offense that makes plays and can create mismatches largely through motion and pre-snap movement. Aside from Marshawn Lynch and maybe Golden Tate, it wasn’t as if they had dynamic playmakers either. Plus they were without 3/5 of their starting offensive line for a good chunk of the season.

          Another defensive, tough team that had better offensive output were the 49ers. They were also without 2 of their top 3 receivers for most of the season. They have a GREAT offensive line. But they also come up with creative ways to run the ball, and as a whole, Greg Roman is a masterful play-caller.

          The Chargers are another team I cited earlier in the season. They really didn’t have a ton of playmakers on offense (outside of Keenan Allen), but a lot of their success stemmed from using players in an assortment of different positions and again, CREATING MISMATCHES. They also completely changed their blocking scheme and got more out of their running game, even with three new starters on the offensive line.

          When exactly did the Ravens prove that they can do the same on offense this season with limited resources?

          The days of simply overpowering teams are fleeting. You have to be able to create offensive success through scheme and preparation. Even the teams with talent — like Denver — do this every week. And that doesn’t mean you have cheat to get it done.

          • BoldinRaver on said:

            Remember when Ayebadejo got his public admonishment for saying the Patriots were built on tricks and schemes and that it wouldn’t work against the Ravens in the championship? Well he was right, and your premise that football is evolving beyond overpowering teams is wrong. There’s no mistaking the continued presence of physical teams, from the Giants to the Steelers to the Ravens to the Niners in championship football, and recently. And I’ll just say: Boldin! (“Me want ball. Me TAKE ball!”) I still think you’re selling a foundation of sand. The Ravens were schemed out sometime after the Jets game. After that there was no more fooling anybody with anything. They lacked the talent at key positions on offense and that meant teams could key on everything else, screen, reverses, potential mismatches. It was too easy. Chargers? Are you kidding me. They are the biggest, baddest O-Line in football. Fluker could eat both of us as a snack!
            To end on an agreeable note, yes they could have done better at play calling. I was very disappointed at times, but nothing changes the fact they were not going far, even if they had made the playoffs. There was never going to be enough time in the pocket or run game to keep defenses honest.

  2. Joshua on said:

    Belicheat has ridden the coattails of Tom Brady for years now. This is the same guy that got canned in CLEVELAND and resigned from the Jets AFTER ONE DAY! Furthermore, look at his past several drafts — he has taken only a few impact players that are still on the roster. And what have they accomplished since Spygate? As for Cincy, I believe Marvin Lewis still has a losing record as their head coach. Give me a break. This was just a bad season for the Ravens, plain and simple. We are still a franchise that others envy.

    • Tony LombardiTony Lombardi on said:

      I believe that Dev’s two points are that 1) the Patriots coaching, not their scouting, was vastly superior to that of the Ravens’. And 2) the Bengals have many more playmakers than the Ravens, not that Marvin Lewis is a better coach.

      So which of these two points is wrong?

      • Joshua on said:

        My opinion is Dev was overstating the first of your observations regarding the Pats. There have been numerous times this year when Brady has bailed out his team in the waning seconds of games, thus making Belicheat look superior to his coaching counterparts. And this isn’t the first season where Brady has done that. As for Cincy, no doubt they have some better playmakers than the Ravens, but I am never worried about a Marvin Lewis-coached team. We caused Dalton to throw four — FOUR!! — picks last Sunday and still couldn’t beat them. I may be in the minority on this, but this is just my opinion. We simply had a bad year.

        • Dev on said:

          Josh, those are fair points. I didn’t mean to say that the Ravens should model themselves after those teams because they aren’t in their class. Clearly, they are. They just need to use those games to see which weaknesses were exploited, and learn from that. It won’t be an easy fix.

          Getting back to NE, they are still going to wind up winning 12 games with pretty much an entirely new offense. They struggled early, and yes, Brady certainly makes a difference. But their game plans are different week to week based on who they play. And they adjust constantly during the games.

          Again, they are who they are, and the Ravens or any other team isn’t them. And I’m not suggesting they become them. Just that the Ravens need to be more adaptable and creative as a coaching staff overall going forward.

          • Joshua on said:

            I completely agree, Dev. We are in desperate need of an offensive overhaul this offseason, and it has to start with better QB coaching. My assessment of Belicheat and the Patsies is simply this: if it weren’t for #12′s constant presence, Belicheat would not be as revered as he is considering his past failures in Cleveland and resigning the Jets after one day. Brady is the type of QB that can make any head coach look good. And their offense doesn’t change that much week-to-week; it remains one of the most simplistic, yet effective schemes in the league. Our team is in desperate need of something like that.

  3. Nick on said:

    Good article and I agree. I’m a diehard Ravens fan but anyone trying to discount Belichick is a dimm bulb. Things I would like to see in the coaching staff include a replacement for Caldwell who was not as good as I thought he could be with a full offseason. Replacement or just removal of Castillo, but I have a bad feeling this won’t happen due to ties with Harbaugh. Replacement for Pees. I’m like most of the writers on this site, I’m tired of bend but don’t break. In the draft/free agency: 1) offensive line (tackle, center); 2) WR and or TE (BTW, don’t forget about Mellette he showed promise but we need something damn near proven here); and 3) a running back. After that a free safety and a pass rusher maybe or are normal best player available.

      • Dev on said:

        Nick,

        I definitely would like to see Mellette given an opportunity to get reps next season. He is a prime example of someone who flashed big play potential that could be a diamond in the rough. All of the areas you pointed to could use help. Fortunately, this is a draft class loaded with talented skill players all over. I expect the team to go offense-heavy with their picks.

  4. Marcus on said:

    Dev/Tony,
    I am one of the Ravens fan that truly believe Ozzie will do what is needed to get us the play makers and coaches that we need to confront the problems that Cincy and New England presents. I also think it’s time to let Jim Caldwell and Dean Peas go, for coordinators that will do just what Dev said, make adjustments on the fly and attack the teams weakness, not just sit back and hope the original game plan works.

  5. Mac in Va on said:

    Dev, I really think the game that should be seared into the organizations mind (at least it is in mine) is the 4th week against the Bills when rice carried the ball 4 times for 17 yards in a loss. No elite QB (Manuel) or playmakers and no brilliant coaching staff (Chan Gailey if memory serves). Just a run of the mill ball club with no specific standout talents and no perceivable upside.

    That’s when I first started scratching my head and wondering aloud what was going on here. Long before we hobbled to an 8-8 finish, something seemed amiss with this team. I refuse to covet another teams playmakers but, damn it, we had enough talent to win that game. We had enough talent to play better than we did at home against the Pats and in Cincy, where two interceptions resulted in… wait for it… two field goals.

    That leaves only coaching and as much as I admire Coach Harbaugh, I have to agree with his self admonishment; this team’s failure is on him.

    There’s an 11:00 press conference scheduled and I’m anxious to hear about some real changes going forward. No more “our guys fought bravely” or “it’s tough to win in the NFL”; the season for coach speak has passed

      • Dev on said:

        Great points, Mac. I was at that game, and it was a tough one to watch in person. This is another example of the team coming out with one strategy, falling behind, and having a hard time making the proper adjustments.

        They were hell bent on running the ball to start the game on early downs. The Bills were able to force a couple of three and outs, along with early INTs. From there on out, the game got away from them.

  6. The Fixer on said:

    Here were our problems:
    1. O-line was horrible! Talent was bad and Harbaugh brought in a “friend” to help. He was horrible in Philly!
    2. Lack of WR playmakers.
    3. Caldwell ran Cam’s offense when fired last year. He did a poor job putting his own together.
    4. The Big One – Lack of leadership! These players were sheep’s to our leadership of the past.

  7. Scott on said:

    Agree with Dev. Cincy has emerged because they started drafting much better about four years ago. They used to rely on the shared scouting service and drafted horribly year after year. But several years ago they joined the Ravens and the Pats by doing their own college scouting. Their picks improved significantly. Also, they benefited from having a higher draft position than us, and that crazy Carson Palmer trade by which they stole picks from a desperate, near-death Raiders’ owner. Two years ago, after our 2012 draft, Eric DeCosta admitted that players we really wanted were picked right in front of us. The Bengals picked in front of us that year and landed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Still and others. Also, Pagano had just left our Castle meeting rooms to join Indy and he snagged TY Hilton with a mid-round pick in front of us. We got mid-round scrubs like Gradowski, Asa Jackson and Christian Thompson (now out of the league). DeCosta never said who was stolen, but I’m convinced he had his eye on Hilton and Jones because we were looking for a KR and WR in that draft.

  8. Evan on said:

    The Ravens are now a victim of their own success. Five straight years in the playoffs, three AFC championship games, one Super Bowl win, a good run that several NFL teams would envy.

  9. Neil B on said:

    Our coaching does stink. I was really excited about Cauldwell getting the reins this year, but the offense looked minor league. Defense was just as bad, they can’t continue to rush 3 and 4 against good QB’s and expect the secondary to cover the whole time.

  10. Torry Lewis on said:

    Sometimes people cant handle the truth. To me this was a very well written and fact based article. For us to be better we have to be honest with the facts. Do the Patriots have a better coach? Heck yea, Harbs will tell you that. I have not heard one person say our offense is inovative, productive or any one beating down the door to get our OC. And Pees is a good D coach. I like him. But is he really up to the caliber of the D coaches we have had in the past, Marvin Lewis, Pagano, Nolin, Child please. And as far as talent goes, Ill leave you with this. Gino and AQ shipley are starters on our line. Come on man….

  11. PG County Ravens on said:

    Very good article. Agree 100%: we need innovative and risktaking coaching and some ballers with an edge (Bengals LB Burflict comes to mind!). I think it’s better to reel folks in than to have to push them out to perform! Physicality – we’ve lost that on both sides of the ball. So much success has led to complacency which leads to softness, which leads to lackadasical performances and not making the playoffs. Being outcoached and pushed around has been the norm this past season. This will do us good!! Happy New Year!

  12. Voice of Reason on said:

    This is a very well written and factual article. I couldn’t agree more and Mike Preston has eluded to these points in some of his most recent articles.

    Bottom line–our offense stinks! We play offense like it is the 1950′s. Nothing has changed in philosophy since about 1999. Think about it, running back up the middle, tip toeing for one or two yards. Slant patterns across the middle–no way. Three step drops–nope. West coast offense–never. How about letting our 6th year (going on 7th year) QB call all of his own plays? We only pay him mega millions to think and our staff treats him like a 5 year old. Ground and pound is the order of the day. Problem is–we don’t have an O line that can move anybody off the line of scrimmage. We can’t even convert a 4th and one. Our running back is young in age and old in body. We let go Bobby Rainey which ranks up there with the Anquan Boldin trade as two of the worst personnel moves of the year.

    Defense is fair, but the personnel is only a stop gap. Haloti and Suggs are nearing or are on the wrong side of 30. Do you think they are like wine and are going to get better with age? Yet, we are tied to hefty expensive contracts that offer little or no cap relief if we let them go. What about our Strong Side rookie safety who played out of position all year? Elam is not a free safety and that accounted for many big, long yardage plays for TDs this year. We need to overhaul much of the team. Another point–How come the majority of our draft picks always ride the bench? Notice other teams in the NFL use their rookies–New England, Dallas, just to name a few. They say we draft well, but then they never see the field except for special teams. Why didn’t we use Juice at TE or halfback? By the time we use our rookies, they are in the last year of their deal and they go elsewhere. Something is wrong with that picture. Look at Art Jones, Kruger and others. We get 1 year max out of some of them.

    Now as far as coordinators, sadly Caldwell is out of his league. It is a shame; I like the man. Now, I may be doing the man a disservice, especially if Castille and some other coaches are overriding his authority because of Harbaugh. We really don’t know the truth there. Dean Pees is just not aggressive enough for me. The defenses were too vanilla and great QBs tore us apart. I am in favor of a change in both coordinators.

    I could go on and on but the point is this is not a quick turnaround. Anyone who thinks like that is fooling themselves. We have minimal cap space and the situation only gets worse as Flacco’s contract chews up more and more space. Somehow, they have to pro-rate his signing bonus over many years no matter what. It’s a mess right now and it is going to take months to devise a workable plan to turn this thing around.

  13. Terpmaniac on said:

    Regardless of how poorly we played we were still ONE WIN AWAY from making the playoffs, one! Buffalo by 3, Pitt by 3, Chicago by 3, GB by 2, and Cleveland by 6, all loses, all winnable with just one big play by somebody, anybody and we are all singing a different tune. Last year we got all the breaks, this year we got none of the breaks. As far as Cincy is concerned. Untill both Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis win at least ONE, ONE playoff game both are 0-whatever I am still not convinced that Cincy is the new dominant power in the afc north. I still say its Pittsburgh.

  14. RAYVENRAYG on said:

    Zone blocking needs to go – Bring back ANDY as O-Line coach, Caudwell was never an OC before he was QB coach & head coach or in actuality an assistant to PEYTON before we got him so it may be time for a new OC. Dean Peas is fine barring injuries to key pieces of our Defense, when he was at New England their defenses did fine, almost any DC we have ever had here cannot always compensate completely for non productive offense wearing out our defense. “Bend don’t Break” has produced 2 superbowls and top 10 defenses most of the Ravens history. Many people saying Dean should go need to produce a name of who is available & who they can guarantee to produce better defenses. Short list isn’t it. We have had a long line of great defenses and lost plenty of great DC’s who are and or were Head coaches when snatched from our organization. We have maintained our defense through continuity of good coaches, great players and development of new ones only to have them leave for big contracts and they go to other teams and are not quite the same because the SYSTEM is what makes them good team players for us and okay players for other great defensive coordinators. Defensively we are still solid but may lose fully trained good players due to young individuals leaving for their 1st huge payday and of course cap space issues (and no it’s not because of Joe or his well earned contract). Fix the offense learn better ways to use our weapons, keep the defense sharp & growing and things will improve. Throw away too many coaches and you’ll secure years of floundering but never quite getting back to the potential we had ending 2012. That run from JOE in the playoffs that’s the potential our team should have gone forward with in 2013. Offensive blocking scheme struggles, change of our center, injuries to Pitta, Jones, Rice, Osemele wounded our offense beyond any full recovery and so we watch playoffs from home. Some changes are warranted but don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater we are not that bad a team. Remember that we were not expected to repeat almost NO ONE does, and just one score in 5 or 6 of our losses would have made them Wins. As MAXWELL SMART used to say “Missed it by this much!” Ravens will “rise & conquer” again or are you firing the live mascots too.

  15. Hollywoodheiz on said:

    I know this is the oldest argument in the book but lets see what New England would do in the AFC North. Hardly the six gimmies they get in the ultra weak AFC East. They always get off to their fast start because they play those divisional cupcakes early. As witnessed again this year. I’m sure I echo the sentiment of others that are so tired of the media love from Jim Nance on down thru Dev for this team that simply plays in a substandard division. And please save me the ” it’s not their fault the other teams in their conference are weak.” All we heard this entire season is the league is a league of parity. The Patriots schedule is a joke. Annually. Do some research.

    • Dev on said:

      This year the Patriots actually played in a division with a better overall record than the North. If you want to simply compare what the division leaders faced, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills finished at 22-26, while the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns finished at 20-28. You also aren’t taking into account that the Jets have been a playoff team under Rex and even Mangini, and made deep runs in the postseason.

      And last time I checked, they have been pretty good record against playoff caliber teams outside of their division. With Brady, they have been 5-2 against the Steelers, 6-3 against the Ravens, and 10-4 record against Peyton Manning led teams. You should take your own advice and do some research for that category.

      But in general, they certainly play weaker teams in their division. I actually make that argument all the time when I compare what the Ravens and Steelers have done over the years. (Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a NE lover, even if I gave them credit for something.)

      However, what they’ve done record wise really has nothing to with the point I made about them being a well-coached team from a strategy, game planning and in-game adjustment standpoint.

  16. Matt on said:

    This whole season was disappointing and unacceptable. Say what you will about the O line or the differences in this team from last year, the main problem was the predictability of a one dimensional offense that never seemed to stick with the fundamentals of the game. There were games where the O line blocked and played well and we still couldn’t run the ball. Handing off to Ray Rice in the shotgun all season long was a joke. Whether he was injured or not was not the issue… how was Rice supposed to gain higher then a 3 yard average when he starts each run 3 yards deep out of the gun? Our entire offensive coaching staff should be fired and I have always liked Harbaugh but if he still stands by this philosophy and those coaches then he should be gone too.

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