Quarter Season Gut-Check
Birds Nest Prologue: Professional athletes should never really need “Gut Checks,” or “Wake-up Calls.” They are men being paid to play a boy’s game, in front of adoring fans who give up their hard earned money to watch them, their tax dollars to finance the teams’ stadium, and who live and die with each game. The least they could do is try as hard as they can, all of the time. Of course, in the era of the spoiled athlete, most do not.
That being said, several Ravens and pundits are labeling the loss in Cleveland a wake up call or a gut check. So then what were the 2 near-collapses against the Jets and Cardinals at home? One would hope that those would have “woken” this team up. As fans of the team, we can only hope that they have not been giving their best efforts, and that is the reason for the mediocre play so far this season. The only other option is that they are not a very good team. Some talking heads around the country that don’t see this team play on a week-to-week basis have started labeling them as such. We at the Nest know better. There is simply too much collective talent on both sides of the football for this to be a problem of having a “bad” team.
As long ago as it may now seem, it was just last year that the Ravens were 13-3 and the #2 seed in the AFC. However, a quick look around the NFL is evidence that much can change in a year. The Chicago Bears are 1-3, but they have been decimated by injuries on defense and hurt by the regression of Rex Grossman and loss of Thomas Jones. The San Diego Chargers are 1-3, but they are under new head coach Norv Turner, and to say that everybody saw this coming from them would be an understatement. The New Orleans Saints? Well, they just ran out of Fairy Dust. The Ravens, while having sustained a few injuries, are still pretty much the same team, with the same coaching staff, and game philosophies as they had last year. While this may seem at first to be a positive, perhaps it is time to start thinking about how to change things up a bit.
The Ravens offense has been much more unpredictable this season when compared to years past, in terms of whether they will run or pass on any given down, which, along with the upgrade at running back, has led to them currently standing at 8th in the league in total offensive yards. But it hardly matters whether you are running for 3 yards on 1st down and throwing for 5 on 2nd OR throwing for 5 on 1st and running for 3 on 2nd. Its still 3rd and 2.
This offense is still predicated on SHORT passes and controlling the clock. Which works fine when you have a defense that is consistently ranking in the top 5 in the league, as it has been since Brian Billick and his West Coast Offense have been in B-More. But when your vaunted defense is giving up over 22 points per game, scoring 20 on a handful of long drives isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need to put up some points. Which means a quick-strike touchdown here and there, exactly what has been missing for the past 8+ seasons.
The Ravens have as much talent on offense, at wide receiver and tight end, as most any team in the league. The difference is in the way they are utilized in the offensive schemes, which results in the discrepancy of being ranked 8th in the league in total yards, yet 18th in points per game. For comparisons sake, the top 4 teams in the league in total offense, 1 through 4, are: Dallas, New England, Indianapolis, Detroit. Top 4 in points per game? Again: Dallas, New England, Indianapolis, Detroit. The yards just aren’t translating into points for the Ravens, because they are coming between the 20s. The lack of quick-strike big plays, combined with the abysmal red zone efficiency, lead to a lot of yards….and a lot of field goals.
So instead of (or in addition to) a gut-check to the players, this could serve as a “brain-check” to the Ravens coaches. Last season, Brian Billick made a job and season-saving decision by firing his good friend Jim Fassel as Offensive Coordinator when the Ravens were sitting at 4-2 atop the AFC Central. Perhaps this season he can make a similarly drastic move, by allowing his quarterbacks to throw down the field. We don’t know if it really matters whether it is Kyle Boller or Steve McNair. Some would argue that McNair does not have the arm strength to throw the ball all over the field, but both quarterbacks are averaging ~6 yards per attempt this season. Even when he has been in, Boller has shown no signs that he is being encouraged to stretch the field. The change needs to come from the game plan, not from the guy throwing the ball.
Teams have 17 games of film from last season to look at just how the Ravens got their 13-4 record. The same formula may not prove as successful this time around. So will the Ravens coaches stand still, continue to put all the pressure on the defense, and hope it returns to its former self? Or will they take steps toward improving the point output of their offense, serving to take some pressure off of said defense, at least while they get their feet under them and recover from the barrage of punches they have taken over the first 4 games?
The suggestion is not so much for a complete offensive overhaul as it is just a plea for the realization that the team may NEED to score some points to win ballgames. A sense of urgency from the O, evidenced by some shots down the field, some big plays, and a bit of creativity in the red zone. Lets show off the offensive weapons we have here in B-More. The defensive ones just don’t seem to be getting it done like they used to. The Ravens are not a bad team. They are a good team playing poorly. Time to get this ship headed in the right direction.