For the Ravens, Anytime is a Good Time For Change…
…and it’s not too late for a bold move to light a fire within the Ravens.
Bold move number one…
It’s the 4th quarter in late October, 2000. The Ravens are hosting their AFC Central rival Tennessee Titans. After Tony Banks throws his third interception of the game, Head Coach Brian Billick decides to make the bold decision of benching his starting quarterback for backup Trent Dilfer. Dilfer signed with Baltimore after losing his starting job in Tampa Bay the year prior to, oddly enough, former Ravens quarterback Eric Zeier.
At the time the Ravens were 5-2. Certainly not terrible. The offense showed signs of clicking at times having put up 39 points in a week 2 shootout with Jacksonville where Banks threw five touchdown passes. Then 37 points in a week 4 shutout of Cincinnati.
But the Ravens were in the middle of a scoring slump as this Titans game would be the fourth straight game without a touchdown scored. The closest they came to a TD in that span was two weeks prior when Tony Banks threw an interception against Washington on the Redskins 1-yard line.
Dilfer was serviceable in his entrance, but the Ravens would fall to 5-3 in the 14-6 loss that day. More of the same came the next week when they lost 9-6 against the Steelers, still in search of a touchdown.
The offense started to gain traction with a road victory in Cincinnati to get to 6-4, the touchdown monkey off their back in the 27-7 win. Then they had possibly the most definitive win in Ravens history to date the next week as they would go on the road to Tennessee and win 24-23. It would be the Titans first home loss since becoming the “Titans” the year before. It was also a win that proved the Ravens were for real, and the “P” word would start to be whispered around in Ravens vernacular, now sitting at 7-4.
A 27-0 shutout of Dallas in week 12, 44-7 stomping of Cleveland in week 13, the offense was rolling… and the rest as they say, is history.
Trent Dilfer didn’t turn into Joe Montana when he took over for Banks. He just had to be a little bit better and that’s exactly what he was. The Ravens scored 16.8 points per game in Banks’ eight starts. They would score 24.9 points per in Dilfer’s eight starts in which the team went 7-1, winning seven straight en route to the teams first playoff berth. Followed that up with four more wins and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Dilfer’s former home, Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
2000 Tony Banks – 8 games, 54.7 Cmp%, 5.8 Y/A, 8 TDs, 8 INTs, 69.3 QB Rating
2000 Trent Dilfer – 8 games, 59.3 Cmp%, 6.6 Y/A, 12 TDs, 11 INTs, 76.6 QB Rating
Why did Brian Billick make the change to begin with?
“Clearly we have got to do something to change the impetus.”
In other words, you can’t be blinded by the winning record. You can’t be blinded by loyalty to a player. It’s not working, and change was necessary to bring some new energy to to the team. Bold move, and it ended up paying off.
For comparisons sake:
2017 Joe Flacco – 11 games, 65.2 Cmp%, 5.3 Y/A, 9 TDs, 11 INTs, 74.2 QB Rating
This without taking into account the changes in the offensive game over the last 17 years.
In 2017, 36 quarterbacks have qualified for statistical purposes.
Flacco is 36th in Y/A (5.3), 31st in QB Rating (74.2), 31st in TD% (2.6) and 29th in INT% (3.1)
Go back to 2000, 34 quarterbacks had qualified.
Banks was 33rd in Y/A (5.8), 27th in QB rating (69.3), 30th in TD% (2.9), 16th in INT% (2.9)
Dilfer was 21st in Y/A (6.6), 20th in QB Rating (76.6), 8th in TD% (5.3), 31st in INT% (4.9)
Before you jump to conclusions, this is not a lobbying for Ryan Mallett on my part. Trent Dilfer had a much better resume at the time he took over than Ryan Mallett currently does. This is more of a lobbying that the Ravens need to address Ryan Mallett’s spot on the team and replace Mallett with someone with a nice resume, or spend a top draft pick on the heir to the throne sooner rather than later. It seems as if Mallett is here simply to not have the Ravens become muddled in a QB controversy. On the other hand, competition brings out the best in players. If you don’t give Flacco competition, what other motivation is there for him? He’s had his big payday, twice. He has a ring. He’s got a wife and four kids at home and has dealt with a shredded knee a bad back and a violent hit to the head a few weeks back against the Dolphins. What’s he doing this for? The guy who proclaimed to be the best quarterback in football, because you have to have that mindset, then backed it up with a Super Bowl MVP, now has started press conferences with “I sucked.” What happened?
But the numbers don’t lie that Joe Flacco is not playing good. Like Flacco, Banks and Dilfer didn’t have a bunch of playmakers. They had Shannon Sharpe who while a hall of famer, wasn’t some world beater here. 67 catches led the team. 810 yards, 5 touchdowns. But the team committed to running the football with Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes, before Holmes went on to be a household name with the Chiefs. You can also point to the offensive line. Banks and Dilfer had a hall of fame left tackle in Jonathan Ogden. But the unit allowed 43 sacks of the duo that season. Despite missing a future hall of fame guard in Marshal Yanda for most of this season, Flacco has only been sacked 23 times. On pace for 33 sacks.
The current Ravens don’t have that commitment to the running game and are asking Joe to put the ball in the air a lot more and this is the result they are getting. Worse than Tony Banks, worse than Trent Dilfer results. Extreme inefficiency. Eli Manning is doing more with less than Flacco this year, he has a more accomplished resume than Flacco, and he will be riding the pine from here on out simply because the Giants defense and running game isn’t what the Ravens defense is right now, or what the Ravens run game could be if there was more commitment there. The Giants other shortfalls have them at 2-9 and out of the playoff picture completely, so they need to look toward the future. The Ravens are in the playoff picture which puts them in quite the predicament. Being by definition a playoff team, but in the words of Brian Billick, clearly they have got to do something to change the impetus.
But for now, going with Ryan Mallett over Joe Flacco isn’t an option.
That brings us to bold move number two…
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The Ravens are off to one of their best starts in team history at 9-2 to start the 2012 season. Despite the great record, the Ravens offense has been yearning for more consistency in Joe Flacco’s, John Harbaugh’s, and Ray Rice’s fifth year together. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron had been on the hot seat for at least a year by now due to the lack of consistency and rumors that he’s handcuffing Joe Flacco, not letting him reach his full potential.
Then the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town with Charlie Batch filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger. What was supposed to be the Ravens catching a break, turned into a shocking defeat due to some questionable play calls down the stretch. Play calls that excluded the teams most dynamic player, Ray Rice from the field. Play calls that instead of putting the game away with a late lead, gave the Steelers the ball back with plenty of time to mount a game winning drive.
The following week in Washington the Ravens offense came out hot scoring three TDs in their first four possessions. But then Cameron put the brakes on yet again way too early. A seemingly absent Ray Rice, low percentage passes, all led to the Redskins having plenty of opportunities to climb back into the game, which they would go on to win in overtime, 31-28, even after Robert Griffin III was injured late in the game. Kirk Cousins would finish it off and start a nice little career for himself.
With a two game lead in the division race, three games to play, and a 9-4 record, the Ravens fired Cam Cameron. A very bold move given their positioning. One that would be questioned league wide. Jim Caldwell who had never been a play caller before was moved into the interim spot.
Just like when Dilfer replaced Banks, the desired result wasn’t immediate. The Broncos came to Baltimore and embarrassed the Ravens. However, they were able to right the ship with a 33-14 win over the Giants in week 16 to secure the AFC North and give them a break in week 17. However, limping into the playoffs losing four of five games after a 9-2 start is less than ideal.
Ray Lewis announced his last ride, Joe Flacco for the next four games put up numbers comparable to all time greats on the biggest stages against the best opponents, and the rest as they say is history.
Why did John Harbaugh and the Ravens make the move to fire Cam Cameron, when the season as a whole was in a good spot at the time?
“With our coaches and players, the solution is in the building. We are going to make the most of our opportunities going forward, and this change gives us a better possibility to achieve our goals.”
“It’s not about fair or unfair, right or wrong, We need a change. Our plan and our goals are to win games, win our division and get to the playoffs.”
Look at John Harbaugh. Saying all the right things. Where did that guy go?
A 5-2 team made a bold choice. It paid off. A 9-4 team with the 18th ranked offense, and 9th ranked scoring offense made a bold choice. It paid off. Being mediocre wasn’t acceptable and people paid the price for it.
That brings us up to the present day…
The Ravens have the 31st ranked offense. The 18th ranked scoring offense. Dead last in passing but 11th in rushing, and still resort to passing the ball at a higher rate than rushing. Makes sense, no?
I won’t beat around the bush. How does Marty Mornhinweg still have employment here? Where are the balls to say, “Marty, this is unacceptable.” Marty makes Cam Cameron look like Gary Kubiak. Cameron was cut loose for less. If John Harbaugh’s goals are still what he said they were five years ago, “…win games, win our division, get to the playoffs…” how is Marty Mornhinweg the man for that job this year, if Cam Cameron wasn’t the man for it five years ago?
Here is a portion of the transcript from the Ravens press conference on Wednesday. Reading the questions and the answers with John Harbaugh lets you know exactly what kind of shape the offense is in.
QB Joe Flacco, again on Monday, expressed some concern about the direction of offense. Is that an on-going conversation? Do you have similar concerns as Joe? (Mark Viviano) “That depends on your definition of ‘direction.’ The direction we’re trying to go is to be as good as we can be, to try to put as many points as we can put up, play the winningest football that we can play – with our offense, defense and special teams. We want to produce in all three phases. We want to get more out of our offense, and that’s an ongoing process. We’ve been trying to fight for that all year. I think we understand some of the challenges that we’ve had on offense, and we’re trying to fight through those things – different issues with health or whatever it might be – to be as good as we can be the next week out. I want our guys to feel challenged. I want our guys to want to be great, and that’s what we’re working for.”
My take: Is there more than one definition of direction? How long do you give the process to play out on offense? Because this is two years in a row of bad offense. That leash needs to be a lot shorter. Health? Yanda is out. That’s it now. You’re working on your guys wanting to be great? What about winning games? The guys don’t want to be be great on their own? You have to work on making them want to be great? When you cut loose Cameron you said the answer was in the building, and that ended up being Jim Caldwell who never called a play in the NFL up to that point. There has to be anyone willing to take the play sheet and the headset for the next five or more games.
When you’re playing that winning football, and the way the defense is playing, and special teams, does QB Joe Flacco sometimes have to take on that “game manager” role when it comes to winning games? (Jamison Hensley) “I just don’t put labels on it. That’s for somebody else to do. You just go out and try to play quarterback as well as you can, and he does a great job of that. I believe in Joe, and I think he’s our best offensive player. He’s the guy that puts it all together for us. We have to build around him, for sure, and that’s what we try to do.”
My take: Joe is not the best offensive player. Most important, yes. Best, no. You’re failing at building around him. Plain and simple. That’s why he isn’t the best. You can’t build around him in season anyway. The roster is the roster at this point. Coaches can be changed. Hint hint. So what are you trying to do to make this group better? Working on trying to get Joe Flacco to want to be great? Is this football or therapy?
Sean McDonough on the broadcast said that coaches here don’t think QB Joe Flacco is putting enough time and energy into the deep ball. Is that an unfair criticism? (Jeff Zrebiec) “I didn’t hear that quote. I don’t know anything about it.”
My take: You didn’t hear the quote during the Monday Night Football broadcast of a game you coached in? You don’t say. Well, you just then heard the quote and you didn’t exactly come to Joe Flacco’s defense either. You’re saying nothing but telling us everything. There is a clear disconnect.
When did mediocrity become okay around here? Are the Orioles rubbing off on their neighbors down Russell Street?
What has changed in that being a borderline playoff team with bad quarterback play and even worse coordination of the offense itself is just brushed off under the notion of “we’re working on it.” All we’re missing is Buck Showalter popping in to tell us that like baseball, football is also hard.
It’s not too late to make the bold move and give ol’ Marty Mornhinweg the boot. No one will convince me that running the least efficient and worst offense in the NFL equals job security. Better Ravens teams have fired guys with better performances than this garbage. Part of me honestly feels like the Ravens are blinded by being mediocre in a watered down conference. They are tickled to death to be 6-5 although the reality is they have played like a 3-8 team that was lucky to face EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley and Tom Savage, rather than Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers, and DeShaun Watson.
Somehow unlike Billick before, and Harbaugh himself before, they are ok with the impetus of this team. It’s inexplicable.
Given the state of the team and the current mindset expressed by the head coach, maybe the bold move this Ravens team needs has to come from someone higher than Harbaugh, and for the ax to fall on someone more important than Mornhinweg.
Bold moves tend to payoff around here. They are well overdue for a few of them. With five games left in the regular season it is not too late to solidify the weakest link of the three phases. Feels like this Ravens offense is just tippy-toeing into the lion’s den. Something Brian Billick knows you don’t do, something John Harbaugh never used to do, and was never the attitude of Joe Flacco who always thought he was the best. All if that is lost on this team.
Coincidentally, we’ll see if the Ravens tippy-toe in against the Detroit Lions this Sunday. If they do, will that be the final straw? Or will mediocrity, empty seats, bored fans, booing the home team continue being okay around these parts? If so, you might as well go full on insult the fans mode and lock in Breshad Perriman to a long term contract while you’re at it.