Recently I posted an article that suggested if the Ravens offense fails to improve in the passing game this season, offensive coordinator Greg Roman could find himself on the hot seat. The thinking being, that Lamar has been given new tools at the skill positions, plus, at least on paper, the Ravens have upgraded their O-line. And let’s not forget that they’ve added some talent to the brain trust of the offense in the forms of assistant coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams.
Some fans disagreed and those that did, feel that when you peel away all of the layers, at the core of the Ravens passing woes, you will find a common denominator and his name isn’t Roman. Instead, that name is John Harbaugh.
There’s no denying that Harbaugh is an outstanding leader of men and the quintessential CEO for an NFL franchise. His is the straw that stirs the drink of an inviting culture that attracts players and their families. If a free agent chooses Baltimore over another club, all things being equal, there’s a good chance that it was Harbaugh at the center of the team’s persuasive powers.
Critics are quick to point out that John has no experience as a defensive or offensive coordinator at any level and therefore lacks the football acumen to adeptly adjust in-game or to contribute to the game plan in a meaningful way. Furthermore, critics suggest that John provides a framework for his coordinators that is steeped in conservatism and inspired by his mid-western football roots where grinding out the clock, stopping the run, win the battle for field position and protecting the football collide to provide the fundamental path to success in the NFL.
A look at the Ravens defense and its collective approach to the game suggests many things. Conservatism isn’t one of them. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is not someone who plays it close to the vest. Instead, he’s a bit unorthodox and demands that his players be versatile and adaptable to change on the fly, all part of an attempt to create confusion, to disrupt opposing offenses to trigger hesitation and in doing so undermine the intent of a play design. Linemen must be willing to drop into coverage while members of the secondary better be prepared to tackle at the line of scrimmage and be purposeful blitzers.
That’s hardly a directive of a conservative CEO.
If the finger of blame is pointed at Harbaugh for offensive tendencies, then shouldn’t he be credited for the club’s philosophical approach to defense?
Yet when all things are considered, there’s no denying that the banshee approach to defending doesn’t necessarily carry over to the offense, save the organizational reliance on analytics which oftentimes suggests going for it on fourth down even when the Ravens are in their own territory. No one would suggest Harbaugh’s approach to gridiron probabilities is orthodox or conservative.
All that said, the eyeball test tells a story about an offense that hasn’t quite evolved in the passing game the way other teams have. We’ve all seen the overt video critiquing of Roman’s route concepts by NFL Network analysts Kurt Warner and Steve Smith, Sr. We’ve all wondered aloud why two receivers are within a few yards of each other. We’ve questioned why other teams effectively employ back shoulder throws or move their receivers around pre-snap, to gain a free release while the Ravens too often appear reluctant to employ such tactics.
So, if John orders the “code red” to Wink, why not to Greg?
During Harbaugh’s tenure, his offensive coordinators have included Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell, Gary Kubiak, Marc Trestman, Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman. None was really thought to be a pioneering offensive mind although Kubiak at least pushed Joe Flacco to the point of gleaning the most from the QB’s talents. But for the most part, these coaches really weren’t in great demand and it’s easy to conclude that given their limited leverage, Harbaugh held/holds the keys to the offensive kingdom, so to speak.
Digesting this notion, I couldn’t help but to think back to America’s Game: 2012 Baltimore Ravens. Last week it was rebroadcasted on NFL Network, so I decided to take a little trip down memory lane – again. Two clips from the program stood out for me.
The first featured Flacco who expressed frustration over the way the Ravens approached offense. It’s easy to see that Joe wanted Cameron to open up the attack and THAT frustration, inspired change going into the 2012 season.
The second clip captures a frustrated Ravens team that didn’t produce the kind of offensive results they expected in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. At halftime, to a man, they knew they had to change their tactical approach.
The Ravens went on attack and the Patriots had no answers. Yet it begs the question, “Why weren’t they more assertive sooner?” Just like we wonder today why the Ravens passing game isn’t more productive?
The tools are now there for the Ravens offense to succeed through the air.
What will it take to ignite them?
Maybe John Harbaugh should look back to 2012 for clues before it costs him another offensive coordinator.