It didn’t seem like all that long ago when I was on 105.7 The Fan with the boys from The Scott Garceau Show and they asked for my Ravens outlook in 2017. I predicted an (8-8) season for John Harbaugh & Co. I also said that despite a third consecutive season on the outside looking in at the playoffs, Harbs would keep his job.
I was a game off with my prediction but that said, the way it unfolded was hardly what I expected. I thought by season’s end, the Ravens would have a formidable defense. I thought the investments made in said defense would pay dividends and that in 2018 they would sink their dollars and their draft capital into the offense.
The defense was disappointing. Sure, they ranked 12th overall in the league but when you consider the additions to Dean Pees’ side of the ball, their 7th overall rank in 2016 and the substandard lineup of quarterbacks they faced in 2017, we expected more.
We should have seen more.
Offensively the Ravens finished 27th. Some might point out, and accurately so, that the Ravens did finish 9th overall in scoring. But let’s not forget that the Ravens finished with an NFL-best 34 turnovers.
To their credit they were the 10th most efficient red zone offense, scoring TD’s 57.69% of the time v. 2016 when they hit pay dirt on just 52.17% of their red zone visits (19th ranked). Part of the credit here goes to Sam Koch and an excellent punt team that regularly tilted the battle of field position the Ravens way.
When the season began, as alluded to above, it seemed as if the Ravens had mapped out a two-part plan:
- Fix the defense in 2017 (particularly in the fourth quarter).
- Fix the offense in 2018.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Both sides still need help.
Let’s take a look back at the Good, Bad & Ugly for the entire 2017 season.
On September 5, 2017, Alex Collins was signed to the Ravens practice squad, fresh off the tailback scrap heap via the Seattle Seahawks. By October 1 he became the team’s starting tailback and as the season progressed, its best offensive playmaker. He finished the season with 973 yards, 4.6 YPC and 6 TDs…Buck Allen had a very good bounce back season. His stat line might suggest otherwise but don’t be deceived by his 3.9 YPC. Many of Allen’s 591 yards were produced in short yardage situations and when the Ravens had a lead and looked to grind out the clock. In other words, a big chuck of Buck’s body of work came during rather obvious running situations. As the season progressed, Allen’s vision when running inside the tackles was impressive and during the month of December he averaged 4.9 YPC.
When the season started, no one, not even the Ravens, knew who their starting center would be. The team seemed so desperate that they brought in the injured Nick Mangold for a look-see and even re-signed Jeremy Zuttah. But when given the chance Ryan Jensen earned and kept the job in convincing fashion. On the season, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th-ranked center while playing with more control and was the offensive front’s emotional leader…James Hurst was awful as a tackle. But injuries at guard forced him inside and there he was a better pass protector than on the edge and he was efficient in space as a pulling guard. In 2017 Hurst’s career got a big boost and he’ll likely cash in elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent…Austin Howard looked out of shape and got off to an inauspicious start in Baltimore. But after a few games he got his groove back and proved to be a very competent replacement for Rick Wagner.
Matt Judon showed some promise as a pass rusher as a rookie in 2016. This season he started to round out his game while showing improvement in pass coverage and as an open field tackler. The former Grand Valley State Laker improved his tackling totals from 27 to 60 and his sack total jumped from 4 to 8. In 2016, he wasn’t credited with a single stuff. In 2017, he had 10. If Judon can improve as an edge setter against the run, it isn’t far-fetched to think that he can be the heir-apparent to Terrell Suggs. That said, he reminds me of Adalius Thomas…Following a washout rookie season, Willie Henry showed why the Ravens invested a 2016 4th round draft pick on the former Wolverine. Henry had 33 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, 5 passes defensed and 3 stuffs. His knack for knifing through the interior line helped the guys on the edge get to the quarterback. However, he did fade a bit late in the season.
Marlon Humphrey has made a believer out of most observers. Save a subpar game against the Lions when he struggled with two deep contested catches, Humphrey delivered, and deeper into the season he received baptisms of fire going up against two of the league’s best in the forms of Antonio Brown and AJ Green. He held his own. Humphrey’s length, speed and competitiveness suggest a future stud at corner…Jimmy Smith was having an All Pro season prior to his Achilles tear. He was outstanding as a press corner and anticipating bubble screens…Maurice Canady is a bit raw and had a very poor showing in the season finale. But he has length and solid change of direction skills to go with explosiveness in short spaces. He could be a diamond in the rough in 2018.
We are spoiled by the top-end competencies and efficiencies of Messrs. Tucker, Koch and Cox and it’s easy to take them for granted. But their collective value in shifting the field or gleaning points from situations that other teams can’t, is an understated weapon. The Wolfpack not only lives, it thrives…Chris Moore developed into a special teams stud and you get the feeling that he’s on the verge of breaking out on a few levels. 2018 looks promising for him…The Ravens had a league best +17 turnover differential and they were ranked 3rd best in number of penalties (91) and penalty yards (749). In 2016, they were penalized 125 times for 1,111 yards. That’s an improvement of 2.1 penalties and 22.6 yards per game – quite important for an offense that ranked 27th.
Given the injuries to the offensive line and the running backs, special props go to assistant coaches Greg Roman (Senior Offensive Assistant), Joe D’Alessandris (Offensive Line) and Thomas Hammock (Running Backs). Without them, the Ravens offense would have been completely lost. Their ability to get a ground game going after all of the losses and moving parts on the O-Line was collectively and individually outstanding.
Yes, he missed training camp and he probably played hurt. And no, he doesn’t have the weapons that say, Ben Roethlisberger has. But let’s be honest, Joe Flacco, despite a late season rally, had a bad 2017. He was 25th among all starters in passer rating; 32nd in yards per attempt; 22nd in TD passes, all while carrying the league’s highest cap figure. Despite having the league’s worst YPA, suggesting an overabundance of check downs, his completion percentage was only 10th best in the league and receivers generated just 1,541 yards after catch, good for 26th in the league. That’s just 4.4 yards of YAC per completion. It suggests that Flacco doesn’t regularly throw his receivers open or lead them. The eyeball test confirms it…Jeremy Maclin was a huge disappointment. He’s easily injured and too often appeared uninterested. Forty catches for 440 yards is very pedestrian and both represent career lows for Maclin. He’s probably played his last game as a Raven…Maxx Williams did a nice job fighting through ankle and knee injuries but that doesn’t diminish his lack of productivity. He posted just 15 catches for 86 yards on the season pushing his career totals to a whopping 47 catches for 354 yards.
His season wasn’t necessarily “bad”, but the return on investment for Brandon Williams in 2017 clearly left something to be desired. When you compare his productivity to that of Michael Pierce (and I get that B-Will may see more double-teaming than Pierce does), you have to wonder where the dividend is on that big contract. His contract suggests a dominant player. I didn’t see that in 2017. Even in the team’s biggest game of the season against the Bengals, Williams was a non-factor, particularly early in the contest…Speaking of poor returns on an investment, there’s Tony Jefferson. In coverage, he was a liability and at times during the season he whiffed on far too many tackles. He’s at his best around the LOS and he was an effective blitzer at times, although Dean Pees opted to send the smaller, less effective blitzer Eric Weddle far more frequently. Perhaps the new coordinator will put TJ in a better place for success.
Speaking of Weddle, he and Jefferson never seemed to mesh. He looked a step slower and a bit hesitant at times as a tackler. On the back-breaking play against Cincinnati in the finale, he was pretty useless after bluffing a blitz and failing to get back into coverage in time. Against the Bears he tried tackling the ball in overtime and in doing so, he allowed Chicago RB Jordan Howard to break off a game changing run. Weddle carries an $8.25M cap charge in 2018. A pre-June 1 release represents $4.75M in cap savings.
Staying with the cap, CJ Mosley is slated to play the 2018 season under the “5th year option” and what that means is, he’s about to get a hefty raise! If the Ravens don’t extend him, his cap hit in 2018 will be $8.991M. That’s a lot of dough for a player who doesn’t really impact the run game (PFF ranks him 63rd among ILB’s v. run) and as we’ve seen, he’s a liability in coverage when taking on opponent’s tight ends. He just doesn’t make enough impact plays to command that much money. The Ravens need to be careful with any Mosley extension which would certainly help solve a potential cap problem in 2018 but could push the problem into the future. The Ravens are in an undesirable cap situation in part, because they keep kicking the proverbial can down the road…Patrick Onwuasor is an even bigger liability than Mosley in pass coverage. If the Ravens are going to get better at ILB, Onwuasor needs to be a backup in 2018.
In 2016 Breshad Perriman flashed signs that maybe he could make an impact in 2017. And he did…for the other team. Twice passes bounced off his mitts and into the waiting hands of defenders, one for a pick-6. His hands repel footballs the way Micro Seal repels water. The Ravens 2015 first-round pick posted 10 catches for 77 yards THIS SEASON…All four of the Ravens top draft picks in 2017 were defenders. Only one made an impact (Humphrey) and two were regular members of the healthy scratch squad. Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley and Tim Williams combined for 23 tackles in 2017. 2016 second and third round defenders Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi combined for 20 tackles. To summarize, that’s 2 second-round picks and 3 third-round picks from the past two drafts that totaled 43 tackles. Not only is that unacceptable, it’s embarrassing.
THE COACHING STAFF
No one will deny that John Harbaugh is fiercely loyal. It’s a great quality to have for a coach, yet his degree of loyalty can be a double-edged sword — one that can be counterproductive, particularly when things aren’t working. It invites doing the same things the same way, expecting different results.
Things rarely worked for the Ravens coordinators not named Jerry Rosburg prior to the bye week. The Ravens offense was practically a bottom-feeder and the defensive productivity fell far short of expectation given the level of talent. Thankfully Dean Pees opted to retire, a decision made for John Harbaugh.
On the other side of the ball, there’s Marty Mornhinweg. He wasn’t as bad as the numbers suggest. The Ravens left plenty of plays on the field, plays that have been well-documented on this site, that could have altered the outcome of a few games. For whatever reason, it just never clicks. Some might point to the offensive improvement following the bye, and while there was some, the season’s most important game was revealing.
When everyone at The Castle talked about the importance of starting fast against a team that had nothing to play for, the goal being to take away the collective will of the Bengals, the Ravens offense did just the opposite. They fed the Bengals will with a first half performance that included:
- 0 for 8 on third down conversion attempts
- Time of Possession: 9:05
- 61 net yards of offense
- 2 first downs
- 7 punts
- 5 for 19 passing for 28 yards
- 1.47 yards per pass attempt
Part of the problem is that the Ravens, under Harbaugh’s guidance, have taken their highly-paid franchise quarterback whose skill set is hardly a match for a west coast style offense, and jammed him into a coach’s system, INSTEAD of developing a system around him that matches his skillset. That’s a waste of cap space and a waste of talent.
And it all falls on coaching.
Drastic changes are in order!
THE MEGAN FOX
He’s a student of the game. One of the brightest minds on the field. He’s become a leader on and off the field and at the age of 35, he’s an ageless wonder who is still getting it done as one of the game’s best edge rushers. His 11 sacks in 2017 now pushes his career total to 125 ½ which places him 17th on the NFL’s all-time list. First there was Jonathan Ogden, next there will be Ray Lewis and then Ed Reed. The fourth Raven to don a Gold Jacket in Canton will be Terrell Suggs, this season’s Megan Fox Award Winner.