No, Joe, it doesn’t get any better. Not now.
Well, folks; they finally did it.
The Ravens finally peeled back the curtain and illuminated the true nature of their roster, their front office, and ultimately, the franchise as a whole. And it ain’t pretty.
This past Sunday’s revelation came at the hands of the AFC North front-running Cincinnati Bengals, who have become renowned for building excellent rosters, but having those rosters fail them at inopportune times. In an all-too-familiar turn of events, the Ravens actually, miraculously, indescribably held the lead twice in the fourth quarter, but predictably handed it back, each time in a span of under two minutes. Both of quarterback Andy Dalton’s scoring passes were to standout wide receiver A.J. Green, but really, it could have been anyone. The fact that the Ravens didn’t deem Green important enough to bracket with extra coverage in either instance is galling enough.
I find myself in the unique (but certainly not unwarranted) position of bashing my hometown team, whose actions to this point have more than merited what I’m about to do. Don’t get me wrong; I can accept losing. I understand that not every season results in a championship. I’ve never received (or been offered, for that matter) a participation trophy. And I fully realize that rosters evolve and devolve over time, and that entire aspects of teams can change suddenly, with retirements, holdouts, injuries, and myriad other circumstances all impacting Sundays in the fall.
But the Ravens took it further. Their roster had real, tangible, obvious problems, based on a number of the criteria listed above. And they pretended nothing was wrong.
In fact, they did it so well that fans and pundits across the country believed it. The Ravens were actually cited in more than one publication as potential Super Bowl winners, presumably based on their ouster of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their vaunted offense from last season’s playoffs. If they were that good, the reasoning goes, then with the changes they’ve made this offseason, they should be even better. Right?
Um…no. Let’s recap.
The Ravens lost starting wideout Torrey Smith, starting tight end Owen Daniels, backup linebacker/pass rusher Pernell McPhee, WR/KR Jacoby Jones, NT Haloti Ngata, and safety Darian Stewart. All had started for the Ravens at times, and all have contributed to their not-so-recent-anymore successes.
Losing that many players, particularly impact players like Ngata and Smith, makes a difference. The holes can’t simply be filled with more warm bodies. There’s actually a need for talent at most positions, and the Ravens certainly lost a good deal of it. The Ravens made the typical acknowledgements to the media and replaced the aforementioned players with supposedly capable fill-ins.
- Torrey Smith was “replaced” on the roster with first-round wideout Breshad Perriman, who has yet to see a down due to a mysterious knee issue, and who, in this author’s opinion, may never see a down in the NFL.
- Haloti Ngata was “replaced” internally by the emergence of NT Brandon Williams, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Ravens thus far.
- Pernell McPhee was “replaced” by rookie DE/OLB Za’Darius Smith, who has contributed two tackles. He’s projected to finish the season with 11.
- Jacoby Jones was “replaced” as a returner, again internally, with a combination of anyone willing to return kicks and punts, with diminutive WR Michael Campanaro serving as the latest victim. The results have been less than encouraging.
- Owen Daniels was “replaced” by rookie TE Maxx Williams, who supposedly shows promise, but has been thoroughly outplayed by second-year TE Crockett Gillmore.
- Darian Stewart was “replaced” by Texans castoff safety Kendrick Lewis, who seems more spectator than player at the moment, despite his being on the field for almost every snap.
Get the picture?
The pass rush suffered a serious blow when OLB Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon, the second time in the last four years he’s done so. Suggs’ absence has been glaring, as the team has generated almost no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and has allowed them to operate comfortably in the pocket. Lest we forget, Suggs and fellow pass rusher Elvis Dumervil accounted for 27 of the team’s 49 sacks in 2014. This year, the duo has produced one sack in three games. There is no savior or hidden pass-rushing gem on the sidelines or practice squads. Coupled with the loss of McPhee, it’s obvious that the Ravens have no quality depth at OLB, and the existing stable of players isn’t exactly inspiring. Z. Smith and holdover Courtney Upshaw may well have some pass rushing acumen, but we’re not seeing it so far.
And that’s just the linebackers. The secondary is cover-your-eyes awful, unless you happen to be a fan of an opposing team. Then they’re the greatest.
CB Jimmy Smith was deemed to be the best player in a weak secondary last season, and he played very well before he was injured in 2014, certainly far above the other corners on the roster, and it was assumed that his return would bolster the weakest aspect of the defense – pass coverage. The Ravens also added former Patriot Kyle Arrington as a nickel CB.
The results have been…poor. Arrington’s biggest contribution was watching reserve Raiders WR Seth Roberts (oh, stop…you don’t know who he is either) to run untouched into the end zone and score the winning touchdown in week 2. Smith most recently gave up ten catches for 227 yards to A.J. Green; not exactly the sort of numbers you’d expect from a player that was once called “the future of the secondary” by Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome. The litany of missed assignments and position gaffes is endless and inclusive of the entire defensive backfield, and that’s probably being charitable.
The offense is deceiving.
Glance at the passing numbers, and you might say something like, “Why, they’re throwing for around 300 yards per game, and getting a couple of passing TDs every time out!” Which is true, but as no statistician ever said, the numbers don’t tell the whole story…
The Ravens’ chief playmaker is venerable wideout Steve Smith, who has been the only consistent skill player on the entire offense. It gets rather ugly after that on the receiver depth chart, with journeyman Kamar Aiken and maddingly-inconsistent Marlon Brown as the next two available options. While a healthy Perriman would have helped, it’s difficult to imagine that he would have helped much. Perriman was drafted almost solely for his speed, and since that’s questionable to ever be seen again, it’s probable that the current group will remain in place for the rest of the 2015 campaign.
The running game has been ailing, as the offensive line has appeared hesitant and overmatched since the week 1 concussion to starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, whose performances since joining the team have been subpar and certainly not in line with his paycheck. Last year’s surprise, running back Justin Forsett, has been underwhelming at best, and downright awful at worst. Backup Lorenzo Taliaferro has continued his tradition of nagging injuries, and rookie Buck Allen has contributed little, and appears to be working on his transition – still – to the speed of the NFL.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, as noted above, has had very little to work with outside of Steve Smith and Gillmore, but he hasn’t made things any easier for himself. Flacco has thrown desperation interceptions in two games, and still displays the same head-scratching, maddening propensity to hold on to the ball for entirely too long, usually resulting in a sack or a broken play. With the apparent demise of the offensive line, his time in the pocket has become severely limited, and as he’s demonstrated over the years, Flacco is among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL at handling defensive pressure. This year is clearly no different.
And that’s just the onfield stuff.
The Ravens’ “braintrust” has failed them spectacularly this season. Let’s be honest – the Ravens’ last four drafts have produced some starters, but none – with the possible exception of MLB C.J. Mosley – have been impact players or considered standouts at their positions. The next two “success” stories belong to NT Brandon Williams and LG Kelechi Osemele, who are considered solid starters and little else, (to be fair, Williams seems to be emerging as a real obstacle in the middle) as the team struggles to find its identity.
This team has overspent itself repeatedly, and is barely able to justify the roster gaps they’ve made, other than to say, “We thank (player x) for his years of service, but we just couldn’t match his offer.” That’s a copout of epic proportions, and it provides a ready-made excuse for teams that make suspect roster decisions. Be realistic – if a team wants to keep a player and that player wants to remain with that team, they almost always find the means to make it happen.
The Ravens almost never make it happen anymore, as churning through failed stop-gaps for years seems to have finally caught up with them. It’s as though the Ravens are deathly afraid of tearing down the roster and starting over again, because that would indicate some level of defeat, rather than the occasional need to replenish the roster with younger, more-effective talent. Make no mistake, they cannot win with this team, this bunch of overrated and overpriced malcontents who seem to expect the wins to fall at their feet, rather than actually earn them. If they were to do this properly, they would keep a core of 20-30 players that have proven themselves, and who seem to be in relative good health, and jettison the rest as their contracts expire or they are cut through a lack of performance. Draft well for a few years; after all, “In Ozzie We Trust” is an oft-repeated mantra around the Ravens’ facility, so let him extend his “magic touch”. It would mean a few lean years with diminished win totals and lagging attendance, but at least it would be new, and exciting, and would be something different to speculate about.
Right now, all we can speculate about is whether the Ravens will win a single game this season after being programmed by many sources to believe this team could actually contend. It says right here that they will be lucky to win three games in 2015.
And that might be optimistic.