With the divisional round of the NFL playoffs underway, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves on the outside looking in for the third season in a row. To make matters worse, the AFC wild card round was uninspiring, to say the least, leaving many fans to revisit the Ravens debacle once again. The Ravens would undoubtedly present a bigger challenge to the Patriots than the Tennessee Titans. What’s more, the Ravens would surely have performed better than the lowly Buffalo Bills. Right? Honestly, though, these prospects aren’t even worth considering, as the Ravens laid an egg on New Year’s Eve and have forced us to turn the page to the offseason far earlier than we had hoped. In my last blog, I began this process, reviewing the Ravens season and attempting to project potential steps towards fielding an improved team come September. Shortly after, the Ravens addressed the most obvious of those necessary moves, promoting Don “Wink” Martindale to defensive coordinator.
As soon as former coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement on January 1st, it appeared that Baltimore would be the premier location for defensive minds throughout the NFL. Such a young defense, especially one that has already flashed immense potential, would be extremely enticing to anyone, and as a result, Ravens fans were holding out hope for a significant addition to John Harbaugh’s coaching staff. Names such as Vic Fangio and Jack Del Rio made their way through the rumor mill; it was even reported that the Ravens had extended an offer to former DC Chuck Pagano. However, as stated earlier, the Ravens ultimately decided to promote Wink, choosing loyalty over flash and eliciting mixed reviews from the fanbase. While Martindale has been widely respected in Baltimore for his work as a linebackers coach, the team’s mediocrity of recent years has left many calling for drastic change. However, despite being one of those yearning for an identity change, I support this hiring.
I wrote last week that the Ravens defense needed a new voice, someone aggressive that would return the unit to its former glory. Yes, promoting a member of the previous year’s staff suggests more of the same, but diving deeper into Martindale’s history could shed light on the ease with which this decision could have been made. Wink’s history with members of the Ravens organization goes far beyond his 6 years as linebackers coach. First, while at the University of Cincinnati, Martindale spent a year working alongside John Harbaugh, who was the special teams coordinator in 1996. Four years later, Martindale became the defensive coordinator under Jack Harbaugh, and the two won a national championship at the University of Western Kentucky. Finally, in 2012, Wink joined John Harbaugh on the sidelines once more, acting as the Ravens new linebackers coach, and the two won Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers. What’s more, Martindale has a special relationship with the two Ryan brothers, having worked with Rex while at Cincinnati and under Rob in Oakland. Just as the two brothers preach aggressive and intense defense, Wink should bring a rapacious culture that has been sorely missed in Baltimore.
Along with his aggressive mindset, hiring Don Martindale allowed for continuity, a luxury in today’s world of professional sports. For the past few years, owner Steve Bisciotti joined Harbaugh in preaching the importance of stability along the sidelines, both considering it instrumental to the franchise’s success. Bringing a new face into the building may have seemed unnecessarily risky, given Martindale’s expertise and reputation amongst the players. If hiring a man the likes of Del Rio or Fangio was viewed by Ravens brass as potentially divisive, the only two obvious candidates for the job would have been Pagano and Martindale. Thus, as Pagano considered taking time off, Wink was rightfully promoted to the position. Make no mistake, Martindale’s promotion was overdue and well-deserved, but the opportunity to maintain balance and cohesion throughout the coaching staff would have been welcomed.
For those questioning the decision to hire Don Martindale, the most compelling argument is his unsuccessful 2010 campaign with the Denver Broncos. That year, Martindale’s unit ranked last in points allowed, yards allowed, and sacks, so the skepticism is certainly warranted. However, that Denver defense lacked significant talent, and the talent that it did have was injured throughout the year. More, the 2010 Broncos were simply a bad team. Led by New England OC Josh McDaniels, the team went 3-9 to open the year, before finishing 1-3 after his firing. To suggest that the team’s poor defensive numbers were entirely the fault of Martindale is unfair, and considering his success in molding numerous Ravens linebackers since, I remain hopeful that Wink will accelerate the development of the young talent he will now lead.
All in all, it is unlikely that the Ravens’ success in 2018 will hinge on the changes made by Wink Martindale. While his hire is one worth spending time on, he will take charge of a unit that has both proven itself capable and become a strength of the team. Instead, the importance of filling the vacancy at defensive coordinator is that it allows the franchise to move forward and make the additions necessary for improvement. The quick turnover gives Ozzie Newsome and company months to plan for the draft and free agency, the two stages of this offseason that should prove far more crucial in the coming years. With that in mind, we should welcome Wink with open arms, but do so quickly and turn our attention to the decisions Ozzie makes for improving the team’s personnel.
As the slackers take a week off from podcasting, some of us still have to work. I’m not sure if you can call what I do work considering I don’t get paid and it basically consists of me sitting down for a few hours and typing whatever odd thoughts seep out of my brain. But for the sake of me feeling a sense of accomplishment, work we shall call it.Continue Reading …
After Sunday’s heartbreaking 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, it appears that our Baltimore Ravens are at a crossroads, and have potentially franchise-changing decisions to make this offseason. On one hand, the Ravens were one defensive stop away from making the trip to Kansas City for the AFC Wild Card game. Such an outcome, though agonizing, has some fans feeling hopeful for the 2018-19 season that should bring the return of steady starters such as guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, as well as cornerbacks Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith. On the other hand, this is the second straight season in which the Ravens’ playoff hopes have been spoiled by a late defensive collapse, and Baltimore’s fourth season out of five that has ended without qualification for the NFL’s second season. Unsurprisingly, this has much of the fanbase calling for sweeping change across all levels of the organization: management, coaching, and personnel. Just as us fans dispute the team’s direction, owner Steve Bisciotti must do the same, as he will act as the ultimate decision-maker throughout. Bisciotti’s all-important determination of trust in his organization’s current state is a challenge I find worth unraveling myself. However, while the issue is one mainly dealing with the future, the first step towards its resolution is a review of the team’s recent results and the questions that those leave moving forward.
As I alluded to earlier, the inconsistency of Baltimore’s defense – particularly late in games – has been a recurrent issue for John Harbaugh’s squad. Last year the Ravens watched their season effectively end on Christmas Day, as Antonio Brown’s “immaculate extension” granted the Steelers a 31-27 lead with 9 seconds remaining. The crushing loss prompted full-fledged efforts to revamp the defense, with the Ravens spending their first four draft picks on defensive prospects and signing free agent safety Tony Jefferson to a 4 year, $34 million contract. Further, Bisciotti and the organization brass preached to the fanbase that the team would make “finishing” a priority. Still, in 2017, “finishing” games appeared too daunting a task for this Ravens team. While Cincinnati’s touchdown on 4th and 12 looms largest as it lies fresh in our minds, the Ravens suffered two other late-game losses, losing 23-20 at Tennessee in week 9 and 39-38 at Pittsburgh in week 14, making their week 17 matchup with the Bengals an unnecessarily decisive one. Although offensive ineptitude appeared to be the lone question to be answered after the unit’s slow start to the season, flaws were abundant on both sides of the ball. While a lack of weapons at Joe Flacco’s disposal, paired with his consistent inaccuracy, certainly hindered the offense, an inability to generate pass rush and an old, slow secondary proved detrimental as the defense failed to show up against competent offenses. Let me be clear; the Ravens fielded the same team as that of last year, and, though their favorable schedule clouded this for much of the season, change of some sort is needed.
To start, John Harbaugh and company must address the vacancy at defensive coordinator. In reality, the retirement of Dean Pees may actually be timely. Though he seemed widely respected both in the locker room and across the NFL, he must shoulder considerable blame for the inconsistency of his clearly overhyped unit. Sure, Baltimore’s defense looked dominant at times, and they impressively delivered 3 shutouts over the course of the season, but when facing established quarterbacks – which, again, was rare – they looked helpless. Thus, a new voice is needed. Whoever the Ravens hire to take over must rediscover the identity that made the Ravens’ defense feared. He must continue to rebuild the secondary, while somehow getting production out of the seemingly absent young pass rushers added to provide depth. In 2017, the group of Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley totalled a whopping zero sacks. Essentially, the only reliable sources of pressure were 35 year old Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon. One way or another, that has to change. Hopefully, perhaps through the return of Chuck Pagano, the Ravens will bring pressure consistently. If they do, it’s likely that the defense’s numbers will drastically improve.
Next, Baltimore will have to pay significant attention to its offense, more specifically its woeful aerial attack. Joe Flacco averaged a grim 5.1 yards per pass play in 2017 and boasted an 80.4 passer rating at seasons end. Many have called for the firing of Marty Mornhinweg, and while that appears warranted, I believe the lack of talented personnel is the larger issue. If the Ravens hope to score with more ease, they must scratch the approach they have taken to revamp the offense in previous years. Rather than banking on stop-gap cap-casualties such as WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Benjamin Watson, they must pursue young, controllable talent at skill positions. Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, the Ravens must field at least two new offensive weapons in their 2018 season-opener. Looking ahead, potential signees include shifty WR Taylor Gabriel and massive TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. More, the Ravens could either move up in the draft to pick WR Calvin Ridley, or stay put, seeing SMU’s Courtland Sutton or Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk as immediate contributors. Regardless, the offseason priority has to be to give Flacco a competent group of skill players, especially as he continues to show signs of decline.
Of course, to make room for additions there must be subtractions. Obvious candidates to be cap-casualties this offseason are cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Lardarius Webb, who both frequently appeared too slow to be counted on as viable members of the secondary, especially in relation to their salaries. However, other possible cuts are WR Jeremy Maclin and T Austin Howard. Maclin, one of the Ravens’ marquee signings last offseason, seemed flat-out uninterested in playing, evident in his measly 40 catches for 440 yards and 3 touchdowns. Howard, who admittedly was acceptable at the right tackle position, appears to be a luxury given the O-line depth accumulated by the myriad injuries this season. Therefore, it is quite possible that the Ravens choose to let him walk in order to make the more necessary additions through free agency. One final development to follow this offseason is the presence of Joe Flacco, whose release would save the organization $20 mil after next season. Keeping that figure in mind, it is almost probable that this may be the final year we see Flacco in a Ravens uniform, which would make drafting a quarterback yet another priority. This move could be made at any point in the draft, but I expect the scouts to look for a mid-round arm that they could develop under Flacco for a year, before giving him the reigns after cutting the former Super Bowl MVP. Make no mistake; Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ quarterback in 2018, and the changes should revolve around him, requiring an influx of cash to be supplied by the release of veterans deemed unnecessary.
All in all, my message for Steve Bisciotti is clear. The Ravens have a plethora of offseason changes to be made if they hope to field a team that will be better than this year’s, will finish games, and will succeed in making its first playoff birth since 2014. Now for my message to my fellow fans still recovering from our apparently annual heartbreak: while the Ravens are undoubtedly at a crossroads that could shape the outlook of the next 5 years of Baltimore football, I would like to remind you that things could be much worse. Need proof? It lies just a 10 minute walk away from M&T Bank Stadium, in the warehouse that the birdbrained management group of our Baltimore Orioles calls home.
Everything sucks. Listen to me kids; all of your dreams are too far away. As you get older they drift further and further out of reach as you sit back and drunkenly escort them into the safety of the abyss. Just when you think that everything is starting to go your way, your dog will get cancer or your favorite teacher will end up making you come after class and ask you to sit on his lap. That’s the way of this cruel world.Continue Reading …
Would you rather be a Browns’ fan or have to cut Donald Trump’s toenails with your teeth for three hours every Sunday after he played a round of golf? Both have their perks. If you are a Browns fan and you get too drunk at the game and puke in your seat, you could easily pass it off as a natural reaction to watching DeShone Kizer play quarterback. If you cut Donald Trumps toenails with your teeth every Sunday for three hours after he played a round of golf, you would certainly get pretty good at cutting toenails with your teeth and probably would no longer be afraid of spiders or mice. Win, Win. If only there was a way where you could go to the Browns’ game, puke in your seat, and then get to the course in time to greet Donnie in the clubhouse just as he was taking off his shoes. Continue Reading …
This past week has been a bittersweet journey for me. Let’s start with the bitter. As if I need further proof that there isn’t a God, it appears as if I have torn my left ACL. If God were real he would never put such a kind, gentle, handsome, loving soul through a second ACL tear in three years. With all the good that is going on in this world it is just impossible to fathom that God would pick on me when he is shedding such light on the rest of his clan. It just doesn’t add up. There are children everywhere being fed to their weakening hearts content and here I am with two bad knees at the age of 29. All I wanted to do was play some good old beach volleyball in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort but even that was taken away from me. What do I have left? God, if you are up there, which you aren’t, could you please start picking on other people. They can spare some of their good fortune for Christ sakes.Continue Reading …
Bye weeks suck. I know the Ravens haven’t been much fun to watch lately but not having a game to look forward to all week and then spending my Sunday watching other ass games that I don’t care about is even worse. You might say, ‘Hey, Adam, you incredibly hot, sex symbol of the Baltimore sports blogging world, you know you don’t have to watch the games on Sunday. Go out into the world and strut your stuff big boy, and feel the lushness of freedom beaming down on you like a steaming shower of Ramen noodles.’ I would respond, ” First of all, thank you. Second of all, I will not heed your advice. I will waste away in a dark, cold room sucking down beer and munching on Tostitos as I watch the end of the Jaguars, Chargers game that CBS takes off the air as it goes into overtime. I will switch to the whiskey and graham crackers as I watch the Giants take on the 49ers in a game that only the Browns could be proud of. And it will be all boxed red wine and Twizzlers for the night cap as I toast to Brock Osweiler, Denver’s prodigal son.”Continue Reading …
I woke up on Sunday morning, as usual, with a feeling of excitement and optimism. I was ready for the Ravens’ game in Nashville, a scenario that has produced some of my all time favorite games. Waking up on Ravens’ gamedays still makes me feel like a kid on Christmas. Well, it makes me feel like most kids felt on Christmas. When I woke up on Christmas morning as a kid, I had to go steal three dollars from my neighbor so I could take the bus downtown and look for my parents who were usually passed out, half naked under the JFX. But, anyway, there is just something magical about waking up on Sunday mornings during football season and anxiously awaiting the game. And then they kickoff. And then I wonder why in the hell I was ever excited about this damn game in the first place. The Ravens are no longer fun to watch. Not even a little bit. I love the Ravens and I will continue to watch each Sunday, hoping that something clicks and everything changes but holy hell. There is something missing from this team. I’m not sure if it’s strictly personnel, a lack of creativity or a stubbornness to change and adapt to what the league has become, but whatever is missing, it’s glaring.Continue Reading …
Athletes and coaches can be nauseating to listen to as they spew cliché after cliché and avoid anything that could ever be confused for interesting. It’s frustrating as a fan and I can only imagine how mundane it must get for guys like Jason and Jerry who cover these guys. I’m sure they both hear coaches saying, ” if we play our game, stick to the game plan and execute for 60 minutes, I like our chances, ” in their nightmares. That’s why Jerry and Jason’s interview with Buck Showalter was so refreshing. Buck was engaged, honest, enlightening, and entertaining. He spoke with few reservations about where the Orioles’ organization needs to improve and what he thinks about some of the personnel decisions that have been made in recent years.
My favorite part about listening to Buck is his absolute obsession with all things related to baseball. I think if somehow baseball suddenly ceased to exist, Buck would just wonder out into some vast field and blindly stare into the distance until he melted into the abyss. He is constantly thinking about ways to improve the team, the league and the game in general. He told the guys that soon he will be headed to the Competition Committee meetings in Orlando but thinks that he might not be invited back saying, ” Let’s put it this way, Jerry, there’s a chance I won’t be on that but once. I’m a little too opinionated about some things.” It’d be great to be a fly on the wall in those meetings and hear Buck speak his mind about changes he would make.
As an Oriole fan, listening to this interview was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. The encouragement came from Buck’s passion and dedication to improving the team and the organization. When Jerry asked Buck whether the team should be rebuilding or retooling Buck quickly cut him off and said, ” You should always be doing both.” I loved this answer as a fan because it implies that Buck feels like you can still compete while trying to improve the future of the organization. There is no need to concede a poor season or two while trying to, “rebuild.” At the same time, plugging temporary holes with average major league talent and overpaying for the top players in the market won’t bring sustained success. An organization, especially in a smaller market, must develop from within to succeed. Buck alluded to this when the guys presented him a question about the starting rotation going forward and the amount of money the organization is willing to spend. ” First of all, that’s an excuse, that’s a bad road to go down,” he said, speaking about the Orioles lack of funds compared to big market teams. ” We have to develop our own guys…It puts a premium on developing your own pitchers.” I realize that this isn’t revolutionary but it was good to hear Buck so readily admit that this isn’t something the Orioles have done well recently. He didn’t dance around it and say, ‘ the process will work itself out,’ or something meaningless like that.
Buck does seem optimistic about the young position player prospects in the organization. Jason and Jerry have been harping on this for a long time now, repeatedly saying that the Orioles’ farm system is not nearly as sparse of talent as many in the national media believe. Buck mentioned Austin Hayes, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart in the OF and catcher Austin Wynns implying that all had a chance to be on the big league club next year. With the Orioles revolving door at the corner outfield positions in the last couple years, it’s an exciting proposition that a couple young guys could come up and take the reigns.
While the whole interview was great, the most interesting turn came at the very end. The guys were wrapping things up, thanking Buck for his time and saying that while they are critical at times they are Oriole fans through and through. Buck then kind of shocked us all by asking, ” what’s your biggest beef?” The feeling in the room changed as the guys were presented with an opportunity to tell Buck Showalter what their biggest beef with the Orioles’ organization was. I got slightly nervous and excited even though I didn’t have a mic or have anything to do with the interview. This was a moment that could have gone a few different ways. It’s not always comfortable to tell someone what you think is wrong with something that they are at least partially responsible for. If you listen, you can hear Jason take a slight pause and make a noise that represented, ‘ I really want to say this but I’m not sure how he’ll take it but I have to take this opportunity so here it goes.’ I think a psychologist might tell you that Buck was hoping that Jason and Jerry’s criticisms of the Orioles would coincide with his own so he would have a brief opportunity to express his frustrations. Well, ladies and gentleman, I think Buck got his wish.
I mentioned the interview being discouraging and well as encouraging. This was the discouraging part. I got the feeling that, if only Buck had gotten his way or had more influence with some of the moves made, especially those involving young starting pitching prospects, the organization might be in a much more positive position. When Jason relayed to Buck his “biggest beef,” Buck’s response was sobering. Go ahead and listen for yourself.