Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wanna fix the Ravens? Here's how...

Many have put in their 2 cents regarding ways to fix the Ravens. I think the Ravens know how to fix the Ravens better than anyone else and while recent history tells us that they can’t hang with the AFC’s big boys in big games, I don’t think they are that far off.

Now some will argue that the team has many holes to fill. But really what team doesn’t? The NFL is all about strategically exposing the other team’s weaknesses better than they expose yours on any given Sunday.

But back to those holes…

On defense the Ravens need another pass rusher, depth at linebacker and arguably a high caliber corner. Offensively the club needs reinforcements in the offensive line, perhaps a backup quarterback and they need a home run hitter or two.

But it’s difficult to get that all in a single offseason, particularly one that almost certainly will be marked by labor strife.

The Ravens have traditionally added what I’ll call tier B and C free agents to augment their roster during the free agency period, supplement the depth during the draft and then they’ve added a key veteran here and there during training camp to further boost the roster or fill in for depth. TJ Houshmandzadeh and Willie Anderson are perfect examples.

But if there is a lockout on March 4 as expected, the free agency period might happen after the draft which is scheduled come hell or high water for April 28-30. That might actually benefit the Ravens given their front office style which is to first and foremost build through the draft.

As always the offseason presents challenges, piques interest and invites us all to play fantasy Ozzie Newsome.

Today I’ll take my turn being Ozzie and while my plan won’t fill all holes, it should be good enough to get the team over this Divisional Playoff hump.

Quarterback: Those who read my column and or blog regularly will probably accuse me of beating a dead horse but this one is key. If Cam Cameron hangs around as expected (big mistake) then the Ravens need to get Joe Flacco and Cameron on the same page. Cameron needs to be willing to accept his QB’s input and that of a stronger QB coach than the empty sweat suit named Jim Zorn. This one is on Harbaugh and if it isn’t addressed properly, forget about the rest of the plan because the team could implode in a manner not unlike 2007. One look at the Ravens sideline on Saturday night when the defense was seated in Pittsburgh tells you all you need to know about the Ravens offense. Ray Lewis & Co. has no confidence in Cameron’s Crew against quality opponents in the clutch.

Speedy WR: The Ravens front office will tell you that they borrow from the Steelers’ blue print for success. Well the Steelers have something the Ravens don’t – a homerun hitter like Mike Wallace. They need one in order to make quality defenses respect that kind of threat and loosen things up for the rest of the offense. There’s no getting around this and Harbaugh’s lame excuses about Stallworth’s foot injury aside, it was a crime that Cameron never involved him more in the offense save for the predictable reverses.

Offensive Tackle: With one addition to the offensive line the Ravens could virtually improve three offensive line positions. What kind of market value does Jared Gaither have? What is someone willing to pay for his services? If the demand isn’t high, maybe the Ravens can convince him to take a one year deal to re-establish his reputation. Then the team can move Michael Oher back to RT and Marshal Yanda to RG. That said Gaither might not be the solution. It could be that they go to the draft or free agency for such a player. Whatever they do, they need to be able to block the Steelers on the outside, one-on-one with their tackles.

If you watch the Steelers’ safeties, they jump at Flacco’s first read and he’s developed a very bad habit of going to that first read. If he can have that extra second, the Ravens can then use their own bad tendencies from the past, go against them and benefit their play in the future. A perfect case in point was Ryan Clark rolling over to cover Todd Heap on Saturday to come away with an easy interception. Flacco is so programmed to get the ball off against the Steelers that he’s forced into critical mistakes like that one. Word is on the play, Anquan Boldin was wide open down the left side. Why? Because Troy Polamalu was caught up covering Le’Ron McClain out of the backfield, Clark cheated on Heap and Boldin beat the corner one on one.

A “Robin” to Suggs’ Batman: Terrell Suggs had an outstanding season and is emerging as a leader. The team needs to find a threat on the opposite side of Suggs. With Haloti Ngata collapsing the middle, bookend rushers will make a respectable secondary stronger and produce more turnovers. This one is simple math and again the Ravens only need to look to the Steelers who have marginal corners year in and year out.

Clean slate for Ellerbe: The team needs an heir apparent for Ray Lewis but until that happens they must have a sit down with Dannell Ellerbe and figure out how to motivate him. He has the talent and the big play potential. It’s incumbent upon the coaches (and it starts with Harbs) to harness that talent.

Draft: The Ravens get an incomplete grade for the 2010 NFL Draft. No one could predict Sergio Kindle’s situation although there were clear signs that the guy was a knucklehead; Terrence Cody with an offseason of conditioning could be a force and is a solid pick; the tight ends look like they could be productive players but unlike the Patriots and their rookie TE’s, Cameron wasn’t able to put the pair in position to utilize their considerable talents.

David Reed showed that he has promise as a big producer on special teams and insiders say he could emerge in 2011 as a capable weapon on offense; Ozzie Newsome is said to be very excited about DT Arthur Jones but given the team’s affection for Kelly Gregg, Jones seldom saw the field in 2010; Ramon Harewood is a project and there are some who believe he could be the team’s starting RT in 2012 but I’m not holding my breath on that one. I think I’ve heard that before about Oniel Cousins.

So there you have it – my 6 part plan to get the Ravens over the Divisional Playoff hump.

Oh and one more thing, they’ve got 17 unrestricted agents and 8 restricted free agents to deal with.


Better get busy Ozzie!


Jerry B said...

Again, TL, great insight! I'm very concerned about Flacco's continued development under Cameron - he sure didn't help Brees in San Diego! The defense definitely needs a pass rusher, but in fairness to Ozzie, that's why he drafted Kindle, who apparently was the best on the board at the time! Knucklehead is an understatement in describing him, but it doesn't matter 'cause he's not likely to ever play again. By the way, pass rushing talent notwithstanding, the Ravens sacked Roethlisburger 6 times in the first half, but reverted to their "soft" passive three man rush to protect the lead in the second half, which they did all year long with predictible results. The point is, it's more about schemes sometimes than talent. You don't always have to sack a QB, but at a minimum you have to pressure him and get in his face so he can't see the passing lanes, particularly in third and long situations! I think the coaches made a mistake in awarding Oher the LT spot because it not only pissed off Gaither and his agent, but caused him to "seriously" injure his back! Frankly, given his reputation in college that he has completely lived up (down?) to as a Pro, I just wouldn't include him in their plans. Finally, you're right about the need for a speedy receiver. The question is...will Cameron use him because he sure didn't make use of the talent at his disposal this year! Finally, if Stallworth's foot "really" hadn't completely healed, how do you explain the insipid end arounds for negative yards?!