BSL Roundtable: Ravens Coming Off the Bye Week
This week, BSL’s Ravens analysts Chris Stoner, Mike Randall, and Gabe Ferguson discuss some hot topics pertaining to the Ravens as they come off the bye week, look ahead to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and need to get back on track fast.
Discuss your thoughts on these topics on our message board.
1. Injuries have played a major factor in some of the Ravens struggles. Coming off the bye week and looking to be at about 100% strength, what improvements are you looking for in the upcoming games?
Mike Randall – With the offensive line coming back to full strength, I’d like to see commitment to the running game. No excuses for not running the ball if the line is intact. You have to know by now that putting Joe Flacco in the shotgun and throwing it 40+ times is not the way to win ball games. Improve by committing to running and play action, and everything to goes with it. Wearing down a defense, winning time of possession. Don’t give up when a couple of drive don’t go your way.
Chris Stoner – At the BSL Message Board, I’ve talked about wanting to see the youth as much as possible during the remainder of the season. On the field, one specific improvement I’ll be looking for is a commitment to a more balanced offense. 6 consecutive weeks of Flacco getting 40 or more attempts is insane. Run the ball. Feed West and Dixon. Utilize play action when you’ve done a better job establishing the run.
Gabe Ferguson – Perhaps no other position has been hit harder by the injury bug than the offensive line, and poor play there has been a major issue for the offense. Getting Stanley and Yanda back on the field will be a huge step forward in getting the offense back on track. If the OL can get better, it should elevate the offense and the entire team.
2. Joe Flacco has not looked good. No way to sugar coat it. Other than the QB who is easy to blame, who else on the team needs to elevate their games in order to help right the ship? Is there one player you expected more from that is capable of providing more?
MR – I think the player I’m most down on, other than Flacco right now, is Jeremy Zuttah. You could point to Perriman but he is essentially in his rookie year. Next year I would expect the big step forward from Breshad. Webb has been down for a couple years now and I don’t think I expected better from him. Zuttah is the one guy on the team who was a clear fit based on his mobility to block in the zone stretch scheme. He’s battled through injuries and seemingly never played at 100% in his time here, but got the job done. After finishing 2015 on IR, staying healthy throughout the summer and preseason, I expected center to be far down the list of potential problems. Turns out he’s more of a liability than the two rookies the Ravens are starting (when healthy) on the O-line, Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. Zuttah is capable of stepping up and is a scheme fit.
CS – It’s not so much that I expected more from Perriman at this point. He missed his rookie year obviously, and he was always going to go through a transition to the NFL when he got on field. Given that this Summer there was concern he might miss significant time in ’16; I’m generally pleased that he has been able to stay in the lineup. The skill has been flashed. We’ve seen too many drops, and the breakout game has yet to occur. I want to see him become more of a consistent threat by year end. Different offense, different surrounding casts… but Torrey Smith had 50 receptions (on 95 targets) in his 2011 rookie season, with 841 yards (an average of 16.8 yards per catch), and with 7 TD’s. Perriman is currently on pace for 32 receptions (on 78 targets). He’s averaging just 13.1 YPC, and has yet to score.
GF – I think the receiving corps as a whole needs to step up. Kamar Aiken has been a no-show this season after a breakout 2015 campaign. He stepped into the starting role with Steve Smith Sr. out, but he did not produce. I would also like to see Breshad Perriman take on a bigger role in the offense. He has the tools to be a difference maker for the Ravens, but he needs to find more consistency in his route running and clean up the drops.
3. For the most part the defense has done their job. You can cherry pick times they haven’t, as you can with every team. The large knock always has been with Dean Pees’ squads has been closing ends of halves. However, they haven’t faced premier talent other than what was considered their worst showing, against the AFC West leading Raiders. Can the defense keep playing at a high level as the schedule gets tougher in the upcoming second half of the season? And with five of the last nine games in the division?
MR – I think that will hinge a lot on the youth of this unit shining bright. Tavon Young is starting opposite Jimmy Smith. Younger and speedier Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon keep earning more and more playing time, as they should with aging Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil ailing. We’ll see if Za’Darius Smith ups his game at all. Have to like what we have seen from Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, and C.J. Mosely who should be returning this week. Eric Weddle, Jimmy Smith, when Suggs and Dumervil are healthy, seems like a really nice mix of young talent and veteran leadership. I think Deen Pees’ style will limit how dominant the defense will end up on paper. They won’t shut anyone out or force tons of turnovers, or make quarterbacks run for their life. But the talent on the defense will make fundamental plays, limit the running game, and keep the Ravens in every game if the offense would do their job.
CS – Through Week 7, the Ravens Defense was ranked 7th overall in the Football Outsiders DVOA rankings. Fairly strong, considering the Offense was 30th. I’m not a tremendous Dean Pees fan, but the overall success this year has to be acknowledged. I think the offense doing more of their share (longer time of possession, better field position) is a key to the defense maintaining the pre-bye success. Beyond that, Mosley had rebounded to his rookie production. Jernigan has taken a leap. Those two combined with Williams is a nice core up the middle (aided by Weddle in the back). My hope is the young legs of Judon, Correa, Za’Darius Smith make a difference over the remainder of the year.
GF – My biggest concern with the Ravens defense has been the lack of a consistent pass-rush. Suggs has 5 sacks in 6 games, but he is visibly a bit slower than before. Dumervil has done nothing in very limited work. He needs to get healthy and start producing like we have seen the past 3 seasons. If the veterans can’t get it done, I would like to see more of Judon and Correa. If the pass-rush can get back to where it needs to be the defense can be a very good unit.
4. General consensus had the Ravens predicted to go anywhere from 8-8 to 10-6. Few outliers aside. Sitting here at 3-4, are your expectations still intact, or is it shaping up better/worse than expected?
MR – I predicted 10-6 before the season started. At this point that would mean a 7-2 finish to the season. That seems far fetched after currently stuck in a four game losing streak. But lets not forget that the Kansas City Chiefs started 2015 with a win, then five straight losses, then rattled off ten straight wins to close out the season. In the playoffs they shutout Houston 30-0, before the Patriots handed them their first loss since week 6. That isn’t the norm, so expectations here are in line to fall short. But what hasn’t changed is being able to make an argument for winning, or losing any game left. Many said in the beginning that 11-5, or 5-11, neither outcome would be surprising. Still feel that way as making the right adjustments could right the ship fast.
CS – If I squint really hard, I can still see 9 wins as possible. Possible, but not overly realistic. I’m looking at 7 to 8 wins. Under 7, and the wheels will have really come off again.
GF – My personal expectations have certainly been lowered. I think 8-9 wins is still a likely outcome, but the Ravens really missed out on some opportunities to take a commanding lead in the division. The schedule only gets tougher in the second half.
5. There are many reasons for the Ravens struggles here in the pre-bye week portion of the season. I would think it’s impossible to fix every single thing given all the variables. But it shouldn’t be much to ask to fix one thing. Pick one thing and put maximum effort into it. What is the one most important thing that you would fix? It can be short term, or long term.
MR – Discipline. Players should be able to cut down on a lot of bad penalties catch easy passes, defensive players stop fumbling when they get the ball in their hands. Special teams has been a failing grade if you eliminate Just Tucker from the equation. If you fix a big problem like discipline, the little ones will work themselves out. It can lead to more manageable down and distances, less predictable play calling, better offensive output. Better field positon from the special teams.
CS – Maybe the primary thing the Ravens can do is remember who they are, and work to again establishing that identity. Be a physical team, that runs the ball, eliminates the running game of opponents, and has quality special teams. Have a more conservative mindset across the board.
GF – Cut down on the penalties. It’s impossible to keep track of the number of drives that have stalled or never even started because of penalties, mostly on the offensive line. This should be a very fixable issue, and I expect it to get better in the 2nd half.
6. One short term fix the Ravens did was fire Marc Trestman. Based on what we know about Marty Mornhinweg pre-Ravens and his short stint in the spotlight now, do you feel he would be a viable candidate to keep the Offensive Coordinator position into 2017? A short term fix that could turn into a long term one.
MR – No. I think the Ravens need to spend this offseason really going through their personnel and seeing what scheme fits them best for 2017. Steve Smith is out of the picture. Kamar Aiken can test free agency. Mike Wallace is pretty versatile. But Perriman, Chris Moore, are dink and dunk passes in the west coast system where they thrive? I don’t think so. The Ravens need to figure out where their strengths are. Hire a coach who sees the strengths and Ravens brass feels can utilize those skill sets. Approach the draft looking at players that fit the system, or compliment the others in a versatile system. Mornhinweg moves the needle zero for me.
CS – As we looked up Mornhinweg’s history, I was struck by the similarities to Trestman. A guy recognized for his intelligence, that apparently has often disregarded the running game. I don’t know that I’m going to pleased if that prior track-record shows up again here in Baltimore. What Marty will have going for himself as the Ravens enter the off-season, is probably an organizational desire for continuity.
GF – I think Mornhinweg could be a viable OC based on his track record, but I don’t think he is a long term answer if the Ravens want to be a run-first offense. Mornhinweg, like Trestman before him, comes from the West Coast offense coaching tree meaning a short, controlled passing game is the foundation for the offense.
7. NFL ratings are showing huge declines. Newsworthy declines for various reasons. Have you changed your viewing habits? Maybe without the Ravens playing last Sunday, how much football did you watch? If your habits have changed, why? What would draw you back in if you used to be glued to every game?
MR – My interest level has changed. I used to watch all games. Thursday, Sunday night, Monday, make sure I’m up in time to catch London games at 9am. Had to have Red Zone channel for when the Ravens aren’t playing. Oversaturation has taken its toll though. If it’s always on, you feel you can catch it any time, so you don’t have to watch all of it. With the Ravens on a bye week, I didn’t watch one second of football, as my wife and I spent the day outdoors. It was great, I didn’t miss a thing. The color rush gimmick is a joke. Prime time games aren’t going anywhere so maybe try to make Thursday night matchups between teams coming off a bye so the players have ample rest. Sunday night is usually a premier matchup but make Monday nights the same. More often than not, the final game of the week, the main event, looks more like an undercard.
On top of that, officiating is yet again the worst I’ve ever seen. I mean on at least six or seven occasions just involving the Ravens, officials five feet from the action make the wrong call, or don’t throw a flag. But a ref 40 yards away will throw one. The rules are entirely too strict and called way too tight for a fast moving contact sport. By definition, illegal contact happens almost all the time in press coverage. I think what really drives people nuts is that as strict as the rules are, if you lay a pinky finger on a receiver, they bring in the expert rules analyst who doubles down on the idea that that is indeed a penalty, and rightfully called, and justifies the annoying call. It’s going to take a rules official to on air week after week voice displeasure over the tightness the games that are called before they do anything about making the refs jobs easier. But that will never happen.
CS – A few of the big National TV games are down, but I wonder if that is partly overblown due to them running up against the debates? Looking past the debates (and the NFL), English Premier League games are receiving lower ratings in Britain. Maybe we are seeing the early results of cord cutting, etc.? As far as my own personal NFL viewing habits… I watch some of the Thursday*, Sunday Night, Monday Night games weekly. On Sunday afternoons, I don’t find myself watching the non-Ravens game as often as I once did. Yesterday I found myself more interested in the Major League Soccer playoffs vs. the NFL.
*As an aside, the Thursday night games are tough to watch. I actually kind of like the color rush, but the play is noticeably off. Teams are just apparently not ready to play with that limited turn-around. Maybe there needs to be a second bye?
GF – I’ll admit I do not watch as much football as I used to. I think there is an over-saturation of NFL with Thursday night football, four games on Sunday, and Monday Night Football. This also contributes to a declining product in my opinion, as players are having to play on shorter rest affecting the play on the field. I’m not even going to get into the awful officiating/rules, but it’s also a negative factor.
8. (Question posed earlier in the week, prior to World Series Game 6). In baseball, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are trying to erase historic championship droughts. But…Indians fans still have the 0-8 Cleveland Browns to entertain them through the fall. Cubs fans have the 2-6 Chicago Bears to look forward to when baseball wraps up. Neither football franchise has done anything exciting, much less play meaningful football for a while. For the Baltimore guys, would you trade the Ravens, just four years removed from their second title, continuing to be losers for a couple more years of it meant the Orioles would win their first World Series since 1983? If not a Baltimore fan, same question, but apply your favorite teams. Would you sacrifice one if it meant for glory for the other? (Boston fans need not respond, rather do us a favor and take a long walk off a short pier).
MR – 100%. Sorry Ravens. I was born in 1984, so I haven’t seen the O’s win a title. If the Orioles pull a Cubs, I’m going to have to live until I’m 107 years old to see the birds win a title. If I’m going to make it to 107, I need to start eating better or something. If the Indians prevail after a 68-year drought, and the Orioles do the same, I’ll be 67. I don’t want to sit through 36 more years of “maybe next year”, much less 76 more. I think a World Series title is much tougher challenge, given how long it takes to develop a team as most draft picks don’t make the slightest impact for three, four, five years. Ravens can have a few bad seasons, hit on some draft picks that step right in and make the team better immediately, and get right back to being competitive.
CS – Would like to think both are possible, but to play along… I’ve seen the Ravens win two Super Bowls in a relatively short-term. When the Orioles last won a World Series; I was four. If the next O’s World Series title required a drought for the Ravens, I’d sign-up for that.
GF – As a long-suffering fan of the Orioles, I would love to see them win a World Series. I would hate to see the Ravens be perennially awful, but at least I would have the NFL draft to get excited about. I think I would take that trade.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]