I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us in Baltimore and beyond couldn’t be happier to bid good riddance to 2016. While the year seemed to go out with more of a whimper than a bang, there was never a shortage for storylines surrounding the beloved birds of Baltimore.
Of the narratives that emerged, the marquee has to be that the city’s two once-infallible head coaches exited the year second-guessed and doubted. Between Buck Showalter’s Ubaldo-related decisions and John Harbaugh’s apparent unwavering support of the status quo for the Ravens, fans enter 2017 with plenty of doubts pointed at both clubs.
At John Harbaugh’s end-of-the-season press conference, he shocked many fans and media members alike with the decision to retain all coordinators — namely Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Uninspired play-calling has marred the Ravens since Gary Kubiak’s departure in 2014, and the in-season ouster of Marc Trestman made little difference.
One could argue that the shoddy decision-making on offense in particular undercut some pleasant surprises such as Mike Wallace and Dennis Pitta, who both were on a redemption tour in 2016. However, no unit was stymied more than the running backs, where rookie Kenneth Dixon and local legend Terrence West performed capably all year in frustratingly small bursts.
By the end of the season, Harbaugh’s platitude of “Marty believes in running the football” became a.. running joke. There was puzzling play calling down the entire stretch run, including one dubious fourth quarter pass attempt and interception (on first down, in the red zone) against the Eagles that Harbaugh himself dubbed “the worst play call ever.” The consensus opinion became that a change had to be made at offensive coordinator.
Though the coordinator market looked rich with legendary names like Norv Turner and recent head coaches like Mike McCoy, the selection is thinner than fans may have realized. Developing from within and continuity have been issues for the Harbaugh regime at OC since Cam Cameron’s departure in 2012, and Marty’s experience running the West Coast offense seems good enough for the Ravens brass to stick with him.
On the surface, that rationale may be good enough. But in the context of the end-of-the-season presser, it still seemed like an unconvincing argument. Throughout the Q&A, media members peppered Harbaugh with inquiries of how the conclusion to keep Marty was reached. He responded using the same cliches that were used all season. He said a lot of the Ravens shortcomings this season came down to “execution,” and made no real outward criticisms to any schemes or gameplans beyond the desire to run the ball more in the future.
He also went as far to come out and say that Joe Flacco, at least on the financial side, impedes the team’s ability to add the pieces necessary to make Baltimore an 11- or 12-game winner once again.
“We have a quarterback, and he is in that level of compensation, so we need to get him playing at that level,” Harbaugh said.
To me, that’s quite a bit to ask of a quarterback that has proven time and time again over the last decade that he is what he is. You have to question if this means Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome are looking for contract restructuring, or even potential cuts elsewhere at the top of the payroll. Harbaugh wouldn’t deny that possibility, adding “everything is on the table.”
Without a doubt, there will be plenty of narratives worth paying attention to going into the Ravens’ offseason. The biggest culture change Harbaugh could have imposed, an adjustment in offensive scheme, was ultimately decided against. The head coach appears happy to write off much of the season’s struggles as matters of execution, and solutions are going to have to come from the front office side.
Some early mock drafts are implying the Ravens could pick with their receiving corps in mind. But the team will have plenty of areas in need of reinforcements, particularly with pending departures like stud DT Brandon Williams.
Either way, this feels like a pivotal moment in the coaching career of John Harbaugh. Steve Bisciotti has given enough rope for Harbs to hang himself with, and the soon-to-be longest tenured coach in Ravens history faces a tough reality if the issues of 2016 reemerge next season. At least it will be with his old friend Marty by his side.