Sunday, January 16, 2011

Eulogy for a season

I needed a little time to digest that rather disappointing outcome from yesterday (it didn't help that I was at my parent's house for my father's birthday celebration along with my niece and nephew, so I couldn't get as loud and animated as I normally would). I have listened to all the chatter from Ravens fans and all their complaints, both fair and irrational. And here is what I have to say about the game, and the season as a whole...

Were there questionable calls? Yes. Did some of them go against the Ravens? Yes. Did the refs lose the game for the Ravens? Nope. The Ravens lost because they did not execute when they needed to, and they made poor decisions from the top on down (more on that in a moment). They turned the ball over 3 times in their own territory. I don't care how good your defense is, that is an all but impossible challenge to overcome.

The 2 calls that everyone has been questioning are the holding on the Lardarius Webb punt return TD and the holding on Terrence Cody during the final Pittsburgh drive that ended the game. Both could be called ticky tacky fouls, but both were legit calls. Calls that a championship caliber team overcomes (more on that in a moment, too). The Ravens didn't do that.
  • And while we're at it, stop with the "The league/world is out to get us"
They're not. I do believe that Paul Tagliabue didn't want an NFL team in Baltimore, but I do not think Roger Goodell gives a damn about there being a team here, nor does he have any reason to see it fail. This is coming from a guy who was born a Baltimore Colts fan and who wandered the wilderness of not having a team for 12 years (I wound up rooting for the Raiders because the rest of the league hated the Raiders, so them succeeding meant that the league that allowed my team to leave would be pissed off). I was convinced that the league would never allow my city to have a team again. I was wrong. It's time to move on.
  • It's time for Joe Flacco to grow up
The INT on the first play after the Steelers turned Ray Rice's fumble into a TD was inexcusable. You cannot float a pass like that unless you look the deep safety off. Flacco didn't. His team needed him to take over. The defense needed a breather, the offense needed a confidence boost, and the Ravens needed to take some steam out of the Pittsburgh fans. Instead he gives the ball right back to the Steelers, puts the defense right back on the field, and whipped the crowd into an even bigger frenzy. Then on the following offensive possession Flacco and Matt Birk bungle the exchange. Looking at the replays it looked like Birk snapped the ball to the left of his center and missed Flacco's hands. But Birk missed multiple practices AND some of the game (or did you not notice Tony Moll playing right tackle in the 1st and 2nd quarter). Sometimes it feels like Flacco is playing checkers when the rest of the league is playing chess.

Without getting into one of those arguments, I am willing to bet that Peyton Manning or Drew Brees would have been making sure that the little things wouldn't go wrong so that they could concentrate on the game itself. If Joe Flacco is going to move from being a good quarterback to the kind of quarterback that can take his team to the Super Bowl, he is going to have to become the kind of guy that thinks of things like this and stops them before they become a problem. He needs to start talking to the offense when they are on the sidelines. Tell them what they are doing wrong. Like it or not, the QB is the leader of the offense, and no one else can take that mantle (defense can have pretty much any position player taking charge). Joe needs to grab this responsibility, embrace it, and make it happen.
  • It's time for Cam Cameron to go (Greg Mattison might need to start updating his resume, too)
According to reports, Harbaugh has no intention of replacing either Cameron or Mattison. That is a mistake. Cameron does not have a feel for the game when he doesn't have a LaDanian Tomlinson in his prime and an Antonio Gates running free across the field. He has not shown me that he can adapt his scheme to the players that he has. The absolute lack of rubs, screens, and slants during this season when he had 2 of the better YAC receivers in football in Boldin and Houshmandzadeh (and a RB like Rice that can make a lot of people look silly in the open field) is absolutely inexcusable.

He doesn't put his players in a position to succeed. Sometimes I think he is just too obstinate, because I cannot find any other reason for him to make some of the choices he makes. Take for instance his refusal to put Flacco in the shotgun more often. The offensive line was having problems all season,and Flacco is more comfortable in the shotgun. It seems pretty obvious to me what to do. And do not tell me that you can't run the ball out of the shotgun, because you can. It's called a draw play. Not to mention that you have a back like Ray Rice that works best shifting around and letting the blockers get set while making the defense lose track of him because of how small he is, draw plays are going to work even better. Plus it allows Flacco to get a better read of the defense, find where the pressure is coming from, and find his hot read. Combine Flacco in the shotgun with some slants or rubs or pick plays, maybe a screen or two, and suddenly the defense is backpedaling.

Mattison is another guy with questions to answer. Overall the defense played a good game, but I mentioned before that he has not shown an ability to make in game adjustments (as evidenced in the 2nd and 4th quarter points allowed). However, the thing that bothered me about last night was his inability to learn from his mistakes from game to game might have cost the Ravens a chance to win it all this year. On 3rd and 18, Mattison rushed 3. The Steelers went deep and made the play that allowed them to win the game in regulation. When have we seen the Ravens rushing 3 and losing big leads before? Oh yeah, against the Texans. Keith Van Valkenberg talked about it, but it bears repeating. Rushing the QB is not just about getting sacks or pressures. It's also about getting into the throwing lanes or blocking lines of sight for deep passes. Roethlisberger had a clear view of Antonio Brown blowing past a defense that bogged down the area 15-20 yards past the line of scrimmage because they expected the play to go there. Brown ran a 9 route and burned the defense. I am not saying that the Ravens should have blitzed, but putting 5 or 6 going at the QB could have meant that Roethlisberger would not have been able to lock in on Brown so easily, and that could have made all the difference.
  • I expected the excuses from Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh, but I did NOT expect it from Anquan Boldin
Even after the punt return TD was called back, the Ravens still had a chance to go up 4 points with 4 minutes left in the game. On the play, Boldin was covered by two people, but Flacco threw the ball where Boldin (and only Boldin) could catch it. And he should have caught it. It was one of the best throws Flacco made all game, and Boldin let it get past his hands and hit his body, where it bounced away. That is just poor technique. But after the game, Boldin put the blame on the pass. Sorry Anquan, but this one is on you. And you need to own up to it like TJ did his muff on what wound up being the last Ravens offensive play of the season.

I am expecting there to be some big changes in this team next year, if there is a next year. We'll have to see if the owners and the players can keep labor peace going. And as much as this loss hurts, I expect this team to be right back in the hunt whenever the league begins playing again.


  1. You points are well noted about the failures of the coaches,Flacco,and fans making excuses like the refs decided the game.We lost it because we fail to put opponents away late in the game by playing soft defense and conservative offense.Playing not to lose= losing anyway.


  2. I agree with EVERYTHING written here, including the prior comment.

    A few other notes:
    Rushing 3 cost us in FAR more than just the Texans game and I believe it was critical in our loss to the Falcons among others; but the point is extremely valid that our coaches appear to be the ONLY ones on our team who can't seem to learn from their mistakes.

    Further I would add this point with regard to Flacco's development. People perform to expectations. As a manager, when you tell someone you want them to do a job for you because you know they're good at it, it encourages them to work harder to do that job with excellence. The opposite is also true. How does this apply to Flacco? I'm inclined to place more of the blame for his continued issues on Cam Cameron and the coaching staff more than Flacco himself. When your OC continuously sends your QB the message that you're not ready to call audibles and only lets you play with 1/4 of a typical NFL playbook, you're going to destroy that QB's confidence. When you keep telling your QB, "Oh you're young and everyone makes mistakes," you encourage an attitude to settle for less than perfection. (We created that same attitude in Boller, who had 1/2 Flacco's talent.) Brady, Manning, Brees, even Roethlisberger would never be where they are if they didn't believe on every play that they could make something amazing happen, and their coaches believe that about them too.

    We can't keep sending the message to our QB's that, "Eh, you're just not good enough yet?" and then wonder why they don't have the confidence to take charge of the offense and be a leader.

    Where is the work in practice to fix Flacco's weaknesses? Where's the 3-4 second sideline clock in practice to help him learn to get rid of the ball quicker? Where's the work to have him pull his arm back high and tight, instead of the huge windmill wind up he has? Where is the work teaching him to look off defenders or read his progressions? I believe Cam still has him on a simplified offense using only half the field. And I believe Cam has his confidence SO shot and has him SO afraid to make a mistake that THAT is why he'll take a sack or running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage rather than throw the ball away.

    I believe this season our talented players on BOTH sides of the ball got us as far as they did IN SPITE OF a poor coaching staff, NOT with the help of one.


  3. I'm learning a lot here about the Ravens and football. This is my second year watching football seriously, and I have to say what all of the comments here and the post makes sense to me. It seems like Flacco is indecisive about throwing the ball and it does look like he isn't confident. I noticed this when looking at other teams' quarterbacks perform. After playing for our team for three years (?), Flacco should know his team mates well enough to feel confident.

    I don't know much else about the game (yet) but I think that Harbaugh may give into pressure and let Cam go. We need a fresh perspective on that end of the field.

    Culinary Chick

  4. I still don't know enough about football to speak to most of what Ron says (9 route, isn't that a movie about aliens living in Detroit?) but on the psych side I agree with Ron and commenters that Flacco needs to grow up and that may include being pushed out of the nest (Raven puns intended) and allowed to make mistakes so he can learn from them. It's true that men learn from their mistakes but wise men learn from other's mistakes however it doesn't look like Joe is able to learn from his or from other's so far.