As Harbaugh & Lamar Lead The Way
For John Harbaugh & Co., the 2019 season has been quite a ride through Week 11. Entering the campaign, many believed that the season would be determined by how well Lamar Jackson played. But then things changed. No longer was the season predicated on Lamar’s success. That became a given. He balls out every week. Surprisingly, the big unknown wasn’t Lamar at all. It was the defense.
Coming into the season, conventional wisdom suggested that the 2018 No. 1 ranked defense in yards allowed, would be just fine. While they suffered big losses in the forms of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith, most thought that the next men up and the addition of six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas would be enough to finish 2019 as a Top 5 defense.
But things didn’t go as planned, particularly in Weeks 3 and 4 when the defense was like a sieve, yielding 503 and 530 yards respectively, to the Chiefs and the Browns. The secondary looked like they were in shambles and the inside linebackers were as true to their assignments as those in electric football.
To the team’s credit, they didn’t sit back and wait for things to get better. They used their available resources to make changes on the fly, adding new personnel – street free agents to patch up some holes. Enter Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort. The pair brought stability to the team’s intermediate line of defense and that’s not an easy task given the complexity of the Ravens defense. Their success is a testament to the coaching staff and to the players’ ability to quickly grasp their assignments.
Then, Tony Jefferson went down in Week 5 in Pittsburgh. Enter Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott to pick up the slack for Jefferson. One week later, Elliott was lost for the season. As a nicked up secondary prepared to take on the dangerous Russell Wilson in a challenging environment at Seattle, GM Eric DeCosta found a reinforcement for the defensive backfield in the form of Marcus Peters. And since that time, things have fallen into place for Wink Martindale’s defense.
The respected analytics website, Football Outsiders, champions an interesting measurement known as DVOA. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) calculates a team’s success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average.
In other words, DVOA considers the effectiveness of a defense in certain game situations by play, measured against the same effectiveness of other defenses facing similar challenges. And since the acquisition of Peters in Week 7, the Ravens field the league’s best defense per the DVOA model.
I did say the BEST defense since Week 7.
And guess which offense is No. 1 since Week 7 using the same model?
Yup! Lamar Jackson & Co.!
The Coaching Staff
Think about the challenges that John Harbaugh and his staff faced heading into the season. Harbaugh had to navigate the team from the Flacco era and into the Lamar era. And the two quarterbacks could not be any more different. Clearly adjustments were in order for Lamar’s supporting cast given the resulting offense designed by Greg Roman to maximize the unique skillset of their new starting quarterback.
Local talking heads and national pundits mocked and laughed at Harbaugh when he suggested that the Ravens would change the way offense is played in the NFL.
Who’s laughing now?
The offense and the defense aside, Harbaugh deserves credit for reinventing himself – for his willingness AND ability to open his mind to a new approach, to abandon his traditional football roots and seek ways to get the most out of his players instead of making players succumb to a system not ideal for their respective skill sets. Harbaugh is the maestro. He’s the conductor. He may not play the proverbial instruments but he crafts an atmosphere in which the players put the team first and the result is symphonic harmony. You only need to look at the team for proof.
Think back to the Ray Lewis years when defense ruled the roost. Defense was the alpha and everyone knew it. At times it created some divisiveness when things didn’t go well – when the offense wasn’t holding up their end of the deal. Now compare those memories to what we all see before us today.
Offensive and defensive players are together, as one. You see it on the sidelines. You hear it in the postgame interviews. When have you ever seen the team’s starting quarterback talking to the team’s defensive coordinator during the game? Yet we’ve seen Lamar and Wink conversing during TV timeouts. There’s a togetherness that admittedly is at least in part attributed to winning.
But it’s more than that.
There’s an undeniably positive culture that envelopes the Ravens and no one is more responsible for that than Harbaugh.
Here is a postgame interview from FOX that speaks to the rapidly developing camaraderie and singularity of purpose of these Baltimore Ravens.
Double down on the 10, they gonna give you the ace!
Posted by Tony Lombardi on Monday, November 18, 2019
From jump street, the day Harbaugh was hired in 2008, he has consistently preached about TEAM. Even during the challenging seasons when his team had nothing left to play for but pride and the players beside them, they played hard for Harbs. That speaks volumes.
And with a leader like Lamar who is completely embraced by offensive and defensive players alike, in an unprecedented way, it further paves the way for Harbaugh to effectively implement his beliefs, his convictions about the TEAM.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I have a confession. Recently I watched a Facebook Live Q&A with Lamar and I got a little misty. When Lamar was asked what his favorite highlight of the year has been, he said Nick Boyle‘s first touchdown. Now here’s the league’s most electric player who IS a walking highlight reel, saying that a short TD pass in the left flat was his favorite highlight.
His selflessness amazes me. It inspires me. And this vibe is so uniquely Baltimore’s.
Who knows where the balance of this season will take the Ravens. They have a chance to finish the season exactly where they started it – in Miami. Super Bowl 54.
But regardless of what happens during the balance of the 2019 season, this team has energized a city that REALLY needed it. This team has injected a level of happiness into the community that no one expected.
Lives are better. Sweet memories are being made.
There’s something special happening here.