Questions And Concerns Abound For Ravens Offense Heading Into Offseason
The Baltimore Ravens 2013 season full of injuries, inconsistency with play calling and sub par play from veteran starters ended with a loss in Cincinnati to the Bengals 34-17 that knocked the defending Super Bowl champions out of playoff contention.
In a division where the Cincinnati Bengals have taken the next step forward by winning the AFC North and out playing the Ravens in the season finale, sure to have the coaching staff and players stewing all offseason. The hated Pittsburgh Steelers were a missed field goal away from advancing into the playoffs as the #6 seed. In Cleveland, the Browns are still a team looking for direction in rebuilding mode, but it’s the Ravens that have taken a giant step backwards.
The moves made by Ozzie Newsome after the Super Bowl win led to the team gutting a majority of starters both offensively and defensively, working to stay under the salary cap.
On paper, the moves looked solid, capped by giving Joe Flacco $120 million dollars and crowning him the franchise leader at quarterback. Flacco struggled to his worst year statistically, throwing 22 interceptions to 19 touchdowns. Flacco has and can be a big part of this team, but with underperformance all around him, he crumbled. He’ll likely never be in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL, ones that can carry a team.
But there are far more issues beyond Joe Flacco’s play, starting up front with the guys who block for him. Flacco took quite a beating and found himself on the run more often than he could stand tall in the pocket.
The difference between Matt Birk and Gino Gradkowski has been noticeable and well documented. He’s taken his lumps and hasn’t been physical enough. Injuries hurt the offensive line as well, losing Kelechi Osemele to a back injury. Before his injury, Osemele played much like he did during the Super Bowl run. A.Q. Shipley was brought to town via trade in the offseason, and has been serviceable in relief of Osemele, but isn’t a starter.
The only member of the line that got better as the season went on was right guard Marshal Yanda who hadn’t allowed a sack in 22 consecutive games before Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus.
Yanda hasn’t been 100% healthy either, but he suffered from the rest of the line underperforming around him, especially in run blocking where the Ravens have trouble moving defensive fronts because they’re undersized. Michael Oher has likely seen his last days in a Ravens uniform, poor in pass protection and his knack for false starts.
Every opposing quarterback we see facing the Ravens defensive fronts get ample time to scan the field and make throws. Flacco hasn’t had that luxury at all this season. Defensive coordinators love to go up the middle on the Ravens offensive line because the guards are busy helping Gradkowski double team, leaving wide open gaps to get after Flacco.
The Ravens likely will bring in veteran competition at center to push Gradkowski. Gradkowski may still be better in a swing/guard role. They’ll be in their second season respectively, but it may be time to see what center Ryan Jensen and guard/tackle combo, Rick Wagner can contribute to the line, if any in 2014.
Rice posted career lows in yard average, yards and touchdowns as he dealt with a hip flexor injury that he never seemed to completely heal from. Pierce is a good change-of-pace back and showed nice burst at times, but like Rice, appears to lose vision and dances around looking for a hole to run through.
The switch to zone-run blocking brought in by run game coordinator Juan Castillo never made sense for this offensive line and shows a sense of arrogance in switching from a blocking scheme that has worked in the past, to the zone scheme that lineman had trouble adjusting to and sticking with that.
Trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in early March was never addressed properly as the coaching staff hoped the likes of Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson and even Brandon Stokley could make up for production. Add the hip injury to Dennis Pitta in training camp and the need for another wide receiver became a glaring issue. Jacoby Jones is a valuable piece for both the offense and special teams, but he’ll likely test the free agent market this offseason.
Not having a physical, imposing wide receiver lined up opposite of Torrey Smith hurt the Ravens in 2013. Smith posted career highs in catches and yardage, but struggled at times as defenses clamped down on him and took away the deep threat.
The offensive scheme needs a great deal of work going into 2014 as well. The game plan is boring and lacks creativity from coordinator Jim Caldwell; whether its because of the personnel or lack of creativity, there are no bunch WR sets, rub routes or pick routes to free up wide receivers for long gains or create separation in the middle of the field.
The imagination just isn’t there, especially inside the red zone where the Ravens have been absolutely putrid the last two months of the season. The question begs to be asked: Will John Harbaugh take a good hard look this offseason at shaking up the coaching staff?
Despite all the troubles this season, the Ravens just finished an impressive five-year playoff run under John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, leading to three AFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl title. Plain and simple, they just were not good enough this season offensively to put up points and hang with the big boys of the AFC.
A coin flip will determine whether the Ravens or the Dallas Cowboys will have the 16th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, so it begins already. This offseason will be one of Ozzie Newsome’s biggest tests yet as there will be even more change coming the team’s way in 2014.
Image Credit: BaltimoreRavens.com