Knocked Out, Ravens Now Face Challenging Offseason

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Despite the promise of just a few weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens’ 2013 season came to a final, miserable end with their excruciating loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in a game that ended up meaning very little to the Bengals, but everything to the Ravens.

The loss ended a five-year run of making the playoffs under John Harbaugh, including three AFC Championship Game appearances and last season’s Super Bowl win.

But this year it just wasn’t meant to be.

The collapse began far earlier in the season when Baltimore took the ends of games off against teams like the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and the entire game off against the Buffalo Bills, all for losses in games that could have been wins. Had the Ravens found ways to win even three of those games, the loss to the Bengals Sunday wouldn’t have mattered.

The Ravens still would have made the playoffs, perhaps not with a great seed, but they’d be in the dance. They should have made it in this season and could have with just a win. Sunday’s loss hurt especially in knowing that with just a win against the Bengals, the Ravens would have made it in with the Jets’ win over the Dolphins.

This year’s Baltimore Ravens are very deeply flawed with the league’s worst offensive line, worst running game, badly struggling quarterback, and a largely non-existent pass rush despite, on paper, some of the best performers in the league in that regard in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. But those two were largely invisible in any game that mattered this season, especially against the Patriots and Bengals.

The offseason will be long and miserable for this team as it gets ready to say goodbye to much of the remainder of its Super Bowl team that now seems just a distant memory away from the disappointment of this season.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell should probably be the first person let go by head coach John Harbaugh. Caldwell, who had been so successful as quarterbacks coach of the Indianapolis Colts, helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl after a late-season change from Cam Cameron in 2012. But Caldwell had never been an offensive coordinator before, though he had been a head coach. It showed this year.

Caldwell’s offensive play-calling has been vanilla and predictable, game-after-game. The utter lack of imagination in the Ravens offense was best illustrated in the 41-7 humiliation at home at the hands of the New England Patriots.

The Patriots guessed right, as Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston pointed out, on nearly every offensive play call. They knew what was coming before it happened. Unlike the 2000 Ravens’ divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans (who actually possessed the Ravens playbook) the Patriots could just the see plays coming. It was that bad. Caldwell should be fired, along with “run game coordinator” Juan Castillo, the leader of an offensive line scheme change/experiment that failed horribly.

In Caldwell’s defense, quarterback Joe Flacco has had no running game to work with and no time to throw. The league-worst offensive line has helped Flacco lead the league in quarterback sacks and hurries. With no time to throw there isn’t much room for creativity in scheme. But Caldwell failed to adjust his scheme seemingly at all. He didn’t spread the field and run a West Coast offense with a poor line, which is one way he could have avoided the pass rush. Caldwell and Flacco ran the same tired plays and got the same, pitiful results.

Which is the Ravens biggest offseason priority? (Choose up to 3)
Total voters: 1129
Rebuild the offensive line (39%)
Acquire a playmaking wide receiver (15%)
Replace Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator (25%)
Replace Dean Pees as defensive coordinator (7%)
Clear cap space by parting ways with some high-priced vets (14%)
This poll has completed. Thank you for voting.

The selection of Marshall Yanda as a Pro Bowler suggests that the annual NFL All-Star game is still based on reputation rather than hard-earned success in a given year. Yanda’s season has been lousy, or subpar at best. Sadly, he’s been one of the best on the line considering the woes of his compatriots.

When active Kelechi Osemele was largely ineffective partly due to injury. The Ravens finally acknowledged that mid-season in putting Osemele on injured reserve. Michael Oher, on his way out the door, has just been bad. His pass-blocking has varied from nonexistent to poor. His run-blocking has been average at best.

Gino Gradkowski would be considered the worst of the unit, except that Bryant McKinnie was perhaps even worse than him until he was traded to Miami. Then Gradkowski took over that mantle with bad game after bad game. The second year man, first year as a starter, has been unable to handle defense after defense and has been out-sized and out-muscled game-after-game. Gradkowski represents a rare draft bust for the Ravens who usually get playmakers at the line positions but clearly misfired on picking an undersized center and throwing him into the fire.

The only bright spot this year has been Eugene Monroe, obtained in a trade from Jacksonville, but he’s a free agent, and it is unclear if Baltimore can afford to keep him.

The cuts, some of them, are obvious. Ray Rice, a big cap number, is gone. Either Terrell Suggs or Haloti Ngata will be gone too. The prediction here is that it will be Suggs who, has been ineffective throughout the second half of the season, despite, like Yanda, getting a seemingly honorary Pro Bowl nod. Ngata has played better near the end of the season but the Ravens have to decide if Brandon Williams is ready to replace him.

Ed Dickson is probably gone unless he’s willing to take the bare minimum to stay as the Ravens will need to keep Dennis Pitta. Jacoby Jones should be re-signed but he could end up pricing himself out of Baltimore’s range with yet another good season at special teams if he wants wide receiver money. Hopefully Ozzie Newsome doesn’t repeat last year’s bad decision-making on Anquan Boldin and can find a way to keep game-changing returner Jones.

With a non-existent running game the Ravens will probably bid adieu to Vonta Leach who has been, once again, largely invisible in the offense as the running game hasn’t given him much to do but cheerlead from the sidelines.

Marlon Brown is one of the few bright spots to emerge out of the season. He has shown big-game potential and made some huge catches this season, but the loss of Boldin proved an even worse decision with Baltimore having no answer to teams double-covering Torrey Smith with Brown not possessing Boldin’s ball skills or his ability to make highly contested catches.

One particular area of absence has been the long ball. Joe Flacco has rarely connected on deep passes this year, but spent a lot of time on the sideline watching Andy Dalton of the Bengals, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and others connect left and right.

This is an area where the Ravens flat out beat other teams since 2009. But without the Ravens being able to run, teams have been able to pack the safeties deep and choke the Ravens’ vertical game. Flacco has also time and again missed open receivers or thrown passes that floated too long, missing big play scoring opportunities.

The Red Zone offense has been abysmal, but that goes back to everything from Caldwell’s poor play-calling, Harbaugh’s bad decision-making as coach, poor pass protection, non-existent running game, and the resurfacing of Flacco’s old awful habit of locking in on one receiver when others have been wide open. When teams can predict what is coming, it is a lot easier for them to make plays.

The ONLY areas that have been good have been, overall, the secondary and special teams, and, before the last two games, the Red Zone defense. After the first game debacle, and the switch to Matt Elam over Michael Huff, the Ravens have been strong in the secondary with the real emergence of Jimmy Smith. But the unit has nevertheless had tremendous problems on third down, where covering short routes, screens and anything middle-of-the-field, has been challenging all year long.

The Ravens had led the league in three-and-outs, but many of those came in games against bad teams where those teams had no offensive production at all.

The Red Zone defense had been good at keeping teams out of the end zone, but the Patriots laughed their way to a three-for-three in that area in Baltimore (which is something that should never occur at home) and then the Bengals giggled their way to three-out-of-four when the score of that game mattered. With the season on the line, the defense was terrible.

Harbaugh should get a lot of the blame too. His coaching decisions in game-after-game were questionable. His clock management has been poor much of the season, but his nonchalance in games has been downright startling.

In the first game of the season, before the Broncos contest became a blowout, Harbaugh failed to challenge a non-catch by Wes Welker, leading to a Broncos touchdown and changing the momentum of the contest against a team that you can’t allow free scores.

The Bears game was another example of poor play-calling and decision-making, as well as the decision to try for points against the Packers, which led to a turnover and a chip-shot field goal. 6-2 at home wouldn’t be bad for most teams, but the pathetic play of the Ravens on the road, 2-6, meant that home games couldn’t end up losses.

The Ravens were especially bad in their own Division which had been a carnival against teams except the Steelers under Harbaugh before this season. With the loss to Cincinnati, Baltimore ended up just 3-3. That won’t win you anything.

The Browns are better, the Bengals are great already and continue to rack up tons of draft picks to supplement their future for years to come. The Steelers will be back stronger next year.

Newsome, even with salary cap constraints, made lots of bad decisions in the offseason, starting with cutting Boldin. He was far from the “Wizard of Oz” he’s known for being in what was a rare bad offseason. A lot of what happened was not Newsome’s fault. He couldn’t have predicted an offensive line that would have been this bad or the unexpected injury to Pitta, plus the retirements of Matt Birk and Ray Lewis. Newsome will need to work hard to turn things around this offseason.

2013 was a lost season. There’s plenty of blame to go around. But the one thing that is for sure is that decision to slice the roster apart after the Super Bowl was an experiment that failed, miserably.

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About Tom Moore

Tom Moore
TOM MOORE is from Baltimore and writes on sports for Press Box, and he previously served as a columnist for The Baltimore Examiner on many topics related to Baltimore and Maryland. Described by many as a ‘Renaissance man,’ Mr. Moore has hosted the weekly radio program The Tom Moore Show...more

18 Raves on “Knocked Out, Ravens Now Face Challenging Offseason

  1. skaughtz on said:

    Removing Castillo should be the top priority. Losing Birk and a motivated McKinney was costly, but what Castillo did… and then kept doing until the bitter end of this season was inexcusable. I’m giving Caldwell a pass considering that no offensive coordinator in the league could call a decent game with an offensive line as leaky as the one we had this year.

    So:

    1) Remove Castillo.
    2) Improve offensive line.
    3) Profit.

  2. John P. on said:

    We didn’t deserve to make the playoffs. The Chargers are the hottest hand right now, and frankly that’s who you want in the playoffs anyway.

    As far as offseason priorities, I find it curious that Caldwell is on the chopping block, but not Castillo. I also find it interesting that Ray Rice isn’t mentioned. We all love Ray, and we all suspect he was playing injured. But he’s also expensive and tends to get tackled by his offensive linemen because he can’t move well.

    That said – we have nothing to complain about. 5 consecutive appearances (all with wins). 3 championships. And a shiny Lombardi trophy! There are 31 other teams out there that would trade with us.

  3. Raven P in TO on said:

    Sounds like the writer is speaking with his Raven heart more than his journalistic sense…. It wasn’t that bad, a lot of change and a lot of close games that could have went either way but ultimately run game problems , O Line problems and Offensive play calling were the down fall!

  4. Deborah on said:

    The offensive line is a problem. They just don’t stop the defense from penetrating and getting to Joe. I’ve long said PUT Joe in the shotgun more often!! Didn’t yell that at my TV as much as I did when Cam was around, but it is still an issue….it just gets noticed a lil quicker now Thank God! I also think we should have kept Rainey and let RR go….he’s been beaten up enough and only runs into a pile, never running AROUND it if the hole isn’t there. I knew that cut would come back to bite us!!!! We can’t go to the dance every year I guess, but it sure would have been nice to have made a better run for it than we did.

  5. Wyoming Fan on said:

    I have been a fan since day one and am so disappointed with the way this team has been this past year. First off, I know I am going to get some slack, but Flacco is way over rated. He needs to be traded and we need to have someone who can complete a throw and also do a successful long range pass. Now I will agree that that offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting him, but he still can throw. If it wasn’t for Tucker, we would not have won the few games we did this year. So my suggestions to the coaches is to work on getting a better quarterback ( or just work the hell out of Flacco so he is worth that huge salary he is getting), build a much better offensive crew and tighten up the defense line. I know we have the ability to be one of the best teams out there, but not like the way we were this year.

    • Bob on said:

      Your statement that you “have been a fan since day one” and your statement “he needs to be traded” don’t really seem to go together. An observant fan would 1.) know where the true problems lie on offense (hint: not Joe. He’s not Brady, Brees, or Manning, but he gets the job done and more when he has a good supporting cast. Ya know, like most every quarterback in the league) and 2.) be at least partially aware of how Joe’s contract is actually structured.

      • Wyoming Fan on said:

        Bob – I don’t pay much attention to contracts as I have nothing to do with them and to be honest they should be no one’s business except the player and the team management. ( This coming from a business owner who would hate it if my employees and the outside world knew what they made )

        As for my thoughts on trading Flacco, it has nothing to do with me being a fan since day 1. I support the team 100% and always will, but still think that Flacco is just not good enough to play for a normally above average team. I agree he doesn’t rank in the top 5, and that the line did not protect him ( which was stated above ) but he still needs to be either better trained or released to another team.

  6. Ryan on said:

    I really start questioning whether this guy is knowledgeable enough to write for this website when he mentions cutting Rice and Ngata who are pretty much impossible to cut due to their contracts.

    We deserve better, Tony

  7. Mike on said:

    The long ball has been there, the receivers have been there, over and over Flacco missed, overthrew or just didn’t see wide open receivers. I have said for the last 10 weeks that Flacco’s focus is not there. Whether it is being newly married, the stress that two young kids bring but it sure does seem like a Joe is as focused or prepared on I feels the way he should be. You can’t blame a guy for a family life, but if you need more film study to get ready, them you need to do it. I don’t now nor did. I ever buy into Flacco being elite. He is a game manager not a game winner. Just like yesterday, just like all year, we needed our defense to get that stop and keep us in the game so we could will. Last year was a fantasy and no way can we expect Joe to win a shoot out.

  8. JayJay on said:

    It’s bad enough to have to listen to unknowledgeable fans spew off ignorant and illogical opinions like the team needs to fire Ozzie or Harbs or trade/bench Flacco but it reaches a whole new level to see writers make dumb comments about Rice or Ngata being cut when we all know it’s relatively impossible due to the effect on the salary cap. Do better!

  9. Dillon Hudson on said:

    Rebuid offencive line needs to be # 1 priority we have talent if joe flacco has time he will win games. And if rice has a hole t orun through he will score touchdowns. Simple as that. As for defence we need a more consistant pass rush. The QB cant throw if he is on his back. A better line backer wouldnt hurt either Smith cant do it all by himself

  10. Tom Moore on said:

    Not impossible at all JayJay. As my colleague points out in his piece, it really just depends on what the Ravens’ priorities are this season. They could cut a player before or after June 1 with different impacts on the cap for next year and 2015. Those are all considerations for the team. Ray Rice has been very ineffective for the team and they have to weigh the dead money hit for another year of nonexistent production in a key position or whether they think he can improve. Ngata in my opinion deserves another year in Baltimore, but the question is whether they would rather take a dead money hit and invest in younger players.

    @Wyoming: my family is from Montana, so thanks for writing in! The issue is that nobody better than Flacco is out there. Look at all the teams with no QB, who would wish they had Flacco even in a down year.

  11. Gabe on said:

    OL and getting some reliable receiving targets have to be the offseason priority. Flacco got hit far too often and even when he had time there were not always open receivers. Some of the blame falls on Caldwell, and some of it is just a lack of talent.

    The lack of a pass-rush at the end of the season is a minor concern. Number of sacks isn’t always in indicative of pressure created. Did Andy Dalton throw 4 picks because he had years to throw the ball? Tom Brady didn’t exactly light up our defense either.

  12. Joseph gill on said:

    The only thing that needs work is the offensive line everybody wants to blame Joe, ray, & vonte stop looking around what the actual picture is our offensive line needs changeing

  13. rickia harrison on said:

    Before I start I’m just gonna say I love my ravens because I’m a true fan, win or lose. Now the offense definitely needs to be built back up as well as the defense. Just cause ray lewis retired and we lost Ed reed doesn’t mean we couldn’t have made this season one to prove that even without them we can go all the way. But I’m so looking forward to next season and hope to attend a few games. #ravennation for life.

  14. Tom Moore on said:

    Absolutely right @Gabe, Brady had at-best an OK game v. Baltimore. He threw close to 200 yards passing, passer rating was decent, not great, had a TD, no picks, but overall not one that will change his overall worst-ever QBR v. any other team very much. Basically Brady didn’t have much to do because of Ravens mistakes. The first TD was a gift-wrapped present due to a pass interference and the second came after strong starting field position. Decent, at best but give Brady credit, his team won in a blowout and Brady didn’t hurt them with his play, which he has quite often in other games against the Ravens. The defense, especially the pass rush was excellent, and the running game worked against Baltimore for the most part. It was a total humiliation and should have been the game that catapaulted Baltimore into the playoffs, and would have, ultimately had they won.

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