It’s hard to repeat as Super bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens are learning this difficult lesson this season, and honestly they need to be more worried about making the playoffs. After a great Super bowl run, the Ravens parted ways with 8 players off their super bowl winning team. The most a team has lost after winning a SB is 5 players. Now GM Ozzie Newsome and front office are tasked with finding replacements for those players while keeping the production almost at the same level. That is easier said than done. In the 2013 NFL draft Ravens used 6 of their 10 picks to get defensive players. Using 1st, 2nd and 3rd of their picks to get safety Matt Elam, Linebacker Arthur Brown and Defensive tackle, respectively. Ozzie also signed Elvis Dumervil a three time probowler OLB after a fax snafu in Denver, Michael Huff a versatile DB, Marcus spears and Chris Canty. Even with these experience players signed, it is very hard to get everyone one the same page and get the chemistry going. This is evident by week one beat down Denver put on Baltimore (even though that should have been a home game, no thanks to the orioles). Throughout the season it’s been a series of problems on the defense, if it is not the run D then it’s the pass D, if it’s not the pass D then it’s the run D. Head coach John Harbaugh and DC Dean Peas need to get this leaky defense back to where it belongs, Top 10 even Top 5 Defense.
When Anquan Boldin was traded for a 6th round pick to the San Francisco 49ers, everyone thought he would be the most missed offensive player. Then the unthinkable happened, Dennis Pitta, one of the best young, up and coming, talented TEs gets hurt for possibly for the season. That right there threw the whole Ravens offense into shambles, as Pitta was expected to fill the void left by Boldin. The Pitta injury hurts way more than the Boldin trade, look at the numbers the players replacing Boldin, Tandon Doss and undrafted rookie FA Marlon Brown, are putting up. These numbers compare favorably to Boldin’s numbers. What you miss with Boldin is a physical presence that can move the chains.
But now the Ravens have to find ways not only to replace boldin but Pitta as well. Least to say, it has been difficult in trying to find Pitta’s replacement, the backup Ed Dickson is inconsistent with brick hands (it was only 2 yrs ago when he had 54 catches, what happened to that guy?), front office signed veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley but that’s only a temporary solution. The loss of Pitta is very apparent on the field. In today’s NFL, teams have to be able to take advantage of the middle of the field, with all the rules that are put in to protect the players, the seam route is open 8 out of 10 times and you will get some type of flag on the other two times. Look at NO, DEN, now that Gronk is back NE, they have good TEs and they are consistently taking advantage of the middle of the field. Losing Pitta has put the Ravens offense in limbo, inconsistent and sometimes none existent offense is the main reason the ball club is at 3-4.
In addition to the loss of Pitta, the lack of run and pass blocking by the OLine has ruined the Ravens offense. Juan Castillo was hired right before the Super bowl run, from what I hear Castillo is a well-respected Offensive Line coach who spent 10 years in Philadelphia before he was ran out of town by the Eagles organization as the scape goat of the abysmal 2012-13 season. Castillo has come in and changed the running scheme from man blocking, which Ravens excelled in, into zone blocking. Just look at Ray Rice’s stats to see the difference the scheme has made. Ray Rice is perennial probowler, one of the most dangerous RBs in the league, he has 250 rushing yards through week 7, with a dreadful 2.8 ypc , granted he didn’t play one game because of injury. The zone scheme works, actually it is a great scheme, take a look at Houston and Washington. These teams run this scheme to perfection; main reason is because they have the personnel to do. Ravens don’t have the right offensive lineman to run the zone blocking scheme, especially with a new starter at center. Gino Gradkowski is a second year player out of Delaware; he was selected in the 4th round in the 2012 NFL draft. He is having difficulty playing the position. I have a new found appreciation for centers after going what the Ravens are going through. Gino is getting outplayed mentally and physically. This was evident in week 6 loss to the Green Bay packers, A.J. Hawk is one of the best 3-4 inside LBs in the league but he is not known as a sack master, his career best was 3.5 sacks in his rookie year, in week 6 he had 3 sacks while blitzing the A gap (gap between the center and guard) every time Gino failed to recognize and pick up the blitz. If the Ravens want to make the playoffs, the offensive line is the first thing they have to fix and that starts with the center.
As much as Ravens fans don’t want to admit it, the 2013 Ravens are a rebuilding team or transitioning team whatever you want to call it. They have a franchise QB, in Joe Flacco, who needs all the help he can get to win football games. He is not your regular elite QB; Flacco needs a good running game and good scheme to be successful. They seem to have found a good receiver in Torrey Smith; I already talked about Ray Rice. I also talked about the up and down defensive showing the Ravens have had. Knowing all this, an experience coach who has been in difficult situations would know what do. Not coach John Harbaugh, now don’t get me wrong he is very good coach, it is not easy to make it to the playoffs your first 5 seasons, add 3 AFC championships and finally win a super bowl. But so far this season, he has made the wrong decision time and time again. He has made 3 decisions that led directly to three of the four losses. It will take another article to talk about these decisions. They don’t call it conventional wisdom for nothing. You can’t have an aggressive state of mind when the team is clearly in a rebuilding mode. The Baltimore media is useless, they are scared as a Turkey in November, when it comes to asking the coach tough questions. Coach Harbaugh needs to take a look at the mirror and do some self-evaluation. The owner of the Ravens, Steve Biscotti said in the offseason that he wants a team that can contend every year, well Mr. Biscotti it might be time to step down from your high chair and hold the coach accountable, ask him some tough questions, demand some kind of change before the season is lost.
I think repeating as Super bowl champs should be the last thing in the coaches’ and players’ minds. They need to worry about fixing leaky offensive line, stopping the run, cutting out mental breakdowns in the secondary and finally the coach needs to make smarter decisions to put the team in a better position to win ball games. With nine games left in the season, there is still time for the Ravens to salvage their season. That starts with a critical game against the Browns, a division rival.