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 …
Coming off a decisive victory against the formidable CLEVELAND BROWNS, the Ravens prepare for another slobberknocker matchup with the fighting Irsays!
Jason and Jerry give a full recap of Sunday’s expected, but needed win in Cleveland before looking ahead to the Ravens’ Saturday matchup against the Colts.
Then, the boys touch on the O’s trepidation to actually keep themselves open to different sorts of trades involving Manny Machado — and Jason has a trade proposal for a certain in-division rival.
We’re joined this week by one of our favorite guests, our own VoiceOver talent, Kenny Albert! Kenny talks his experiences (or lackthereof) with Baltimore rats, life at Madison Square Garden, and!!! …not much more.. hey, it’s the holidays ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And as always, we have Jason’s Married Guy Rant, Adam’s homework assignment (a special investigation edition!), and much more!
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 …
It’s an age of existential crisis when it comes to Baltimore sports. The Ravens lose a heartbreaker to the Steelers in frustrating fashion, the Orioles are (finally) coming to their senses as fans start to grasp the idea of a post-Manny Birdland…. and we’re talking it all!
We start with a full recap of Sunday Night’s epic matchup (4:05), and preview the scariest game vs. a winless opponent this city has ever seen.
Then, we discuss the news coming out of MLB’s Winter Meetings that the Orioles are fielding offers for superstar Manny Machado… a year too late for our liking, but what can you do? (26:00)
Our guest this week calls in from none other than the Winter Meetings itself, as Mark Feinsand of MLB.com — formerly of the NY Daily News — talks all things AL East in the Winter Meetings. (34:45)
And as always, we have Adam’s homework assignment, Jason’s Married Guy Rant, and a whole lot of Jerry being Jerry… check it out!
As the Ravens gear up for prime time rivalry week, Jason and Jerry recap Sunday’s big win, Jimmy Smith’s woes, and look ahead to Sunday night vs. the Steelers!
Then, we’re privileged to be joined again by former Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Ray goes into detail about his work as a speaker, coach, and the rest of his life away from the playing field. As always, Ray is amazingly humble, candid, and accountable. Ray also shares his perspective on Colin Kaepernick’s circumstance as someone who also has never gotten to work out with a team — let alone get the chance to start again in the NFL. We also talk Ravens, mental wellness, building a post-playing career life, and more.
As always, we have Jason’s Married Guy Rant, Adam’s homework, and some Orioles talk hon!