Observations From the Cheap Seats
To criticize John Harbaugh for his clock management or ill-advised challenges is fair. It hasn’t been a strong suit of his as the sideline skipper. But no one could ever criticize Harbaugh for not having his teams ready to play. Regardless of the situation or standings, the Ravens under his guidance, buckle up their chin straps and play hard.
At times Harbaugh has been loyal to a fault, particularly with suspect coordinators. But loyalty is a two-way street and it’s pretty apparent that it comes back his way as it relates to the dedication of his players and coaches.
Can he improve as a head coach? Of course. And in 2018 he and his staff have done just that. They’ve shown an impressive ability to adapt on the fly – something that is uncommon in the NFL where systems are designed in the offseason, implemented during OTA’s and training camp and if things go as planned, perfected in-season.
Just think about it – could Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson be any different? Yet Harbaugh and his staff were able to completely flip an offense with the same personnel and make it work. That’s asking a lot of a team, yet somehow, they managed to win the AFC North. And now they are the team everyone is concerned about because defending Jackson is problematic for many teams. Most rosters have been built to defend the passing game in the modern NFL. Advantage Ravens…for now.
Whether Harbaugh sticks around or not, remains to be seen. Many teams would welcome his services but he’s still under contract through 2019. The thought of trading Harbaugh has been floated but would he accept such a trade if it might cost his new team a couple of high draft picks? In the end, I expect the Ravens and Harbaugh to work out a fair extension but defining “fair” could be a challenge given that the new benchmark for a head coach’s salary is the 10 year, $100M deal that the Raiders mind-blowingly extended to Jon Gruden.
All The Best Joe
Unless things fall the way of the Ravens and they somehow host the Colts in the AFC Championship Game on January 20th, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that Sunday will be Joe Flacco’s last game at The Bank. I’ve written this before and I’ll reiterate it here, and this goes out to you Mr. Scoreboard Operator – show the fans some Flacco playoff highlights on the video boards during a TV timeout that takes place just before a big defensive stand is needed.
This makes too much sense. Just do it!
Playing Catch Up
Many have questioned the Ravens ability to play catch up if they fall behind in a game with Jackson at the helm. So far they haven’t fallen behind by two scores in any given game despite having faced three of the league’s top 11 offenses during their (6-1) stretch with Jackson as their starting QB. The game of keep-away (i.e. possessing the ball) clearly has its advantages.
But even if the Ravens fall behind by two scores, particularly early in a game, don’t look for them to suddenly become pass happy. Perhaps you may recall the 2012 NFC Championship Game featuring the host Atlanta Falcons and the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Jim Harbaugh’s team fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter yet the Niners stuck with their strength – running the football via the RPO offense directed by Colin Kaepernick.
The man calling the plays for the Niners that season is the same coach who is the architect of the Ravens 2018 running game, Greg Roman. Don’t expect the Ravens to press any panic button if they fall behind. Theirs is an offense that grinds. Getting away from what got them to where they are is a recipe for failure.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 3, 2019
Red Zone Turns Blue
Since Lamar Jackson has been at the helm, the Ravens have struggled to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. They’ve got the red zone blues. During Jackson’s seven starts the Ravens are 11 of 26 on red zone opportunities (42.3%) and they sit at 25% over the last 3 games, second worst in the NFL to Jacksonville. Projected out over an entire season, the 42.3% would also place the Ravens just one rung from the league’s worst red zone team, the 49ers.
Marty Mornhinweg has to dial up better plays and by all means, please ditch the handoff to Maxx Williams when lined up at FB in the I-formation.
Ravens v. Chargers Round 2
Ross Tucker, filling in on The Dan Patrick Show, had NFL analyst Greg Cosell on to talk about the Wild Card playoff games this weekend. Here’s what Cosell had to say about the Ravens v. Chargers.
Slight 2.5-point favorites over the Chargers, the Ravens are one of the better bets on Wild Card weekend says Sascha Paruk from SportsBettingDime.com. The way the offense operates with Lamar Jackson eliminates a lot of the fears about rookie QBs. (It’s not like he has to work through progressions very often.) But given how west-coast teams struggle in the early time slot, coupled with Philip Rivers’ propensity for starting slowly, the safer wager may be Ravens -1.5 in the first half.
But be sure to wager at your own risk, not on my suggestion.
Thank You Ty
Although he hasn’t contributed much since being acquired, it could be argued that Ty Montgomery saved the Ravens season. On the tail end of another horrific Mornhinweg call (an option facing a third and 5 with the Browns selling out on the run), was a loose ball recovered by Montgomery. One bad bounce or a muff by Montgomery and the Browns, with two players hovering over the Ravens reserve tailback, would have taken over at the Ravens 24 with 2:41 remaining and trailing by 2.
Lamar Jackson has received deserved attention as an impactful rookie as has Mark Andrews. But kudos go to other drafted rookies who have contributed to the Ravens cause in 2018, namely Orlando Brown, Jr., Anthony Averett, Kenny Young and Bradley Bozeman. The jury is still out on the balance of the class although Hayden Hurst is beginning to come around. Don’t look for much from WRs Jalen Scott or Jordan Lasley going forward, not just this season — forever! But a surprise contributor in 2019 could be Zach Sieler who I’m told has practiced well. For the moment he’s lost in a numbers game that could loosen next season.
Note (3:08PM): Gus Edwards and his 718 yards (5.2 YPC) deserve kudos as well. My oversight, caught by a colleague. Sorry Gus, sorry Chibs.
Into The Great Wide Open
Former Ravens WR Breshad Perriman shared this during the recent post game presser following the Browns at Ravens regarding his wide-open TD catch: “It’s something we drew up in practice. It’s something we’d seen on film that they have a hard time covering the seams, and we took advantage of it.”
Speaking of Tony Jefferson…
“The best thing about being a Raven, is that @Lj_era8 is on my team and I don’t have to go against him.@_tonyjefferson says the @Ravens QB has a talent he hasn’t seen since @MichaelVick.#RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/Amh93Ybrl8
— GMFB (@gmfb) January 3, 2019
As fans, we sometimes forget about the personal side of things for players and coaches. Because it’s a game and winning is everything, players and coaches can sometimes seem like easily replaceable pawns in the pursuit of victory. What is too often lost is the human element. Like everyone else, these men have families and movement in their lives has a rippling effect.
I was told recently that Joe Flacco has pulled his kids from schools. That hasn’t been confirmed but it reminded me of the human element. John Harbaugh’s daughter is planning to go to Notre Dame to play lacrosse. Might that factor into his decision making should he opt for a new coaching gig. And then there’s this from defensive coordinator Wink Martindale when questioned during today’s presser about his head coaching candidacy.
“I told [Harbaugh] the other day, ‘I’m 55. However long you want to go, I’d love to just be the D-coordinator here and do it with you.”
Odds & Ends
If you are tempted to watch the Netflix Original, Bird Box, given all the hoopla, DON’T! The movie seems like someone’s disconnected bad dream and I can’t recall such a bad movie getting so much attention. Save the two hours of your life for something more exciting and productive – like spending the day at the MVA…I’m finally going to sit down and pour through the remastered box set of The Beatles White Album tonight with my bud Pat Schroeder. I’ll report back in next week’s Odds & Ends.
Ian Rapoport said that it makes sense that the Bengals are interviewing Hue Jackson for their head coaching vacancy given that Marvin Lewis endorsed him. Really? The endorser never won a playoff game (0-7) in 16 seasons while the other was 3-36-1 in 40 games as the Browns skipper. Although I question Rapoport’s logic, I hope he’s right. That bodes well for the Ravens…Count me among those who hope the Steelers do NOT trade Antonio Brown. While he’s an immensely talented WR he’s the consummate diva and if he stays in Pittsburgh he’ll be a cancer and the drama will be a welcomed distraction for the rest of the AFC North.