The Ravens are (3-4) and they currently sit in second place in the AFC North. The players and coaching staff will tell you that they aren’t out of the playoff race. They’ll tell you that they will go to work, each day, to get better. They’ll tell you that they take the season one game at a time, and that they can’t undo what’s been done.
All clichés, yet all true – save for maybe the getting better part.
Actually, the Ravens haven’t gotten better since 2011.
Yes, I get that they won the Super Bowl during the 2012 season. But the 2011 team was more talented than the 2012 squad. The 2011 defense was ranked third in the league (Chuck Pagano was the coordinator, Dean Pees the linebacker coach) and the offense was ranked 15th. Comparatively speaking, the 2012 rankings were 17th (Pagano left and Pees was promoted to DC) and 16th, respectively.
The Super Bowl 47 win ushered in a new era – the post Ray Lewis, Ed Reed era. The defense lost its identity. Organized chaos morphed into bend-but-don’t-break. By 2013, the Ravens no longer enjoyed the value provided by Joe Flacco’s rookie contract. Instead they were forced to pony up more and got much less from Joe in return – hamstrung by cap issues which didn’t allow the Ravens to support their quarterback with complementary talent.
Since Flacco signed his then record contract in 2013, the Ravens have struggled with their cap and haven’t been able to compete for free agents that may have improved the roster. Making cap management even more challenging were the lucrative contracts shelled out to players like Ray Rice, Eugene Monroe and Lardarius Webb, all of whom never performed to the level of their contracts and in the cases of Rice and Monroe, led to a shipload of dead money.
Consequently, the Ravens were forced to turn towards cheap labor in order to effectively compete. Cheap labor by way of the NFL Draft.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome once had an impeccable record of draft picks, rich in talent and highly decorated. But since 2009, the shine has worn off his resume. Only four players between 2009 and 2013 remain on the Ravens roster. And dating back to 2012, the list of players selected, measured against their impact on the field, is staggeringly weak.
Image courtesy of DraftHistory.com
So much for that cheap labor.
And when you combine the cap woes with underperforming players and a dearth of impactful draft picks, it adds up to mediocrity – or worse. Since Super Bowl 47 the Ravens are (34-37) during the regular season.
Is it Ozzie? Is it the scouts? Is it a coaching staff that lacks the ability to develop talent? Is it the revolving door at offensive coordinator? Is it poor game planning? Is it the lack of in-game tactical ingenuity? Is it all of the above?
The balance of 2017 doesn’t look all that promising. The offense is in shambles and the defense is severely underperforming. Plus, the ball just isn’t bouncing the Ravens’ way.
“Right now, if I benched Joe Flacco a bunch of people would be happy. If I fired Ozzie Newsome, a bunch of people would be happy. If I fired John Harbaugh a bunch of people would be happy. I look at them and then I look at us as a team, and I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. I hate to tell you that all of our planning comes down a lot, to the bounce of the ball.” ~ Steve Bisciotti, October 18, 2017
Those lucky or unlucky bounces…
Luck certainly plays a role in the NFL. Sometimes it’s good and you convert a fluky 4th-and-29, or a safety in a Divisional Playoff Game blows his coverage in a prevent defense, or maybe even a non-call goes your way in the Super Bowl. Luck can turn on you as well when injuries occur in epidemic proportions. The Ravens have experienced the extremes of Lady Luck.
But there’s more to the Ravens problems than luck or the bounce of the ball, as Steve Bisciotti described.
As the 2017 season continues, and assuming it slides into another forgettable sub .500 season, let’s hope that Bisciotti doesn’t dismiss the deep-rooted problems in his organization as bad bounces. Let’s remember that those words were shared when the Ravens were (3-3) and somewhat in control of their destiny in 2017. And let’s hope that his words were just lip-service to buy some time until the season plays out, until early January and The State of The Ravens presser.
Doing the same things, the same way, with the same people and expecting different results will be a very difficult sell for the team’s marketing department in 2018.
The thousands of empty seats that we’ll see on Thursday night will serve as daunting reminders.