In a tail­spin, try­ing not to crash, burn

The Ravens have lost their way; time to find out why and how After fourth straight loss, team con­fronts a host of prob­lems

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens are at that point of the sea­son where ev­ery­one has to be ac­count­able. If they can turn it around, then cur­rent per­son­nel should re­main where they are. If not, changes have to be made. If Ravens owner Steve Bis­ciotti wasn’t em­bar­rassed when the New York Gi­ants ended a three-game los­ing streak by beat­ing the Ravens on Oct. 16, then he had to be Sun­day after the Ravens lost to the New York Jets.

The Jets ended a four-game los­ing streak while the Ravens are now on one. Against the Jets, the Ravens had only 12 rush­ing rush­ing and never had the ball in­side New York’s 20-yard line.

If that game was the barom­e­ter of things to come, the sec­ond half of the sea­son will be worse be­cause the The Ravens’ four-game los­ing streak is their first dur­ing the ten­ure of coach John Har­baugh.

The Ravens play­ers gath­ered Mon­day in the au­di­to­rium at the Un­der Ar­mour Per­for­mance Cen­ter. There was no op­po­nent to pre­pare for this week­end. How­ever, there was a game to re­view, and the play­ers and coaches had plenty to go over from Sun­day’s 24-16 loss to the New York Jets.

Such film “cor­rec­tion” ses­sions typ­i­cally take place Tuesday, but the sched­ule changes dur­ing the bye week. So for two hours and 20 min­utes, they pored over ev­ery de­tail and ev­ery mis­take — and there were plenty of them — from their fourth straight loss. Coach John Har­baugh led the meet­ing, but play­ers spoke as well.

“Just an op­por­tu­nity to be very hon­est with one an­other, Nov. 6, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

sched­ule is tougher. And if it un­folds that way and the Ravens have an­other los­ing sea­son, it will be the third time in four years they have failed to reach the post­sea­son.

Tough de­ci­sions will have to be made. Bis­ciotti will need to start ask­ing ques­tions. He should ask gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some why this team has drafted only two Pro Bowl play­ers since 2009.

He needs to point out that the freeagent ac­qui­si­tions of safety Eric Wed­dle, wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. and out­side line­backer Elvis Dumervil ap­pear to be mask­ing some of the re­cent short­com­ings in the draft.

Where are the al­pha males that this team once signed? Is this the result of poor scout­ing and bad judg­ment, or of coach John Har­baugh not want­ing to deal with play­ers who have out­go­ing and some­times out­ra­geous per­son­al­i­ties?

Har­baugh will have his own prob­lems to ad­dress, such as how much in­flu­ence he has in the draft. Here’s an­other one: It’s un­der­stand­able that he wants to hire his bud­dies as as­sis­tant coaches, but the production needs to be stronger. When­ever Juan Castillo has had ma­jor in­flu­ence coach­ing the of­fen­sive line dur­ing his four years with the Ravens, the group has strug­gled.

It’s only been two weeks, but of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg, an­other long­time coach­ing as­so­ciate of Har­baugh’s, hasn’t been im­pres­sive, ei­ther. Har­baugh has had five of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors in as many years, so he is ac­count­able next.

That’s the way it usu­ally works in the NFL. First the as­sis­tants go, then the co­or­di­na­tors, the head coach and the gen­eral man­ager.

But it’s more com­plex than that. Re­gard­less of a fi­nal record, the Ravens have to take a hard look at quar­ter­back Joe Flacco. He is me­chan­i­cally flawed this sea­son, and maybe that’s be­cause of his re­la­tion­ships with Morn­hin­weg and for­mer of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man.

Flacco per­formed bet­ter for co­or­di­na­tors and as­sis­tants such as Gary Ku­biak and Jim Zorn be­cause they played in the NFL. He re­spected them in­stantly, es­pe­cially Zorn, who could still give per­sonal demon­stra­tions. Flacco liked Jim Cald­well be­cause he had spent years work­ing with one of the all-time great quar­ter­backs, Pey­ton Man­ning, with the In­di­anapo­lis Colts.

Cam Cameron and Trest­man never got that type of re­spect from Flacco. The re­la­tion­ship with Morn­hin­weg, at least on the co­or­di­na­tor level, is still a work in progress.

Flacco has al­ways strug­gled with tech­nique through­out his nine-year ca­reer, but it’s worse this sea­son be­cause of the beat­ings he has taken in the pocket. He has be­come gun-shy and ner­vous.

His shoul­ders are of­ten up while throw­ing, which causes his passes to sail. He is throw­ing a lot with­out plant­ing his back foot be­cause he doesn’t be­lieve he has time to re­set while fac­ing pres­sure.

For­get about go­ing through pro­gres­sions. Flacco locks on to re­ceivers be­cause he only trusts two, Smith and tight end Den­nis Pitta. Mike Wal­lace has be­come a tar­get in Smith’s ab­sence.

Be­cause of an in­jury to his throw­ing shoul­der, Flacco prac­ticed only once last week, and there had to be enor­mous pres­sure on Har­baugh to start him Sun­day. De­spite be­ing banged up, Flacco threw 44 passes. Un­be­liev­able.

Credit has to be given to Jets coach Todd Bowles, be­cause his team took away the short passes in the sec­ond half and forced Flacco to throw down­field more.

The Ravens have a bye this week­end, but it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this sea­son plays out. Flacco has been tough through­out his ca­reer, but his body is start­ing to break down.

Is it time for the Ravens to start groom­ing his re­place­ment for next sea­son?

The past nine games could be a turn­ing point in fran­chise his­tory. The Ravens should get some in­jured play­ers back, in­clud­ing Smith, lineback­ers Ter­rell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, and of­fen­sive line­men Mar­shal Yanda and Ron­nie Stan­ley.

If those play­ers had been healthy, the Ravens could have beaten both New York teams. But the NFL isn’t about “what-ifs.” It’s about wins and losses.

Even with those play­ers back in the lineup, it’s still hard to see the Ravens getting that much bet­ter. The Ravens are de­void of tough play­ers who have a dom­i­nant lead­er­ship pres­ence in the locker room.

Ray Lewis was a great player and would de­liver his fa­mous speeches ev­ery few weeks at a team din­ner the night be­fore a game. Ed Reed was more vo­cal and talked all the time, which of­ten ir­ri­tated Har­baugh.

The Ravens have only one player in that mold, and that’s Smith, but he can only do so much while he is in­jured. Suggs is a fun-lov­ing guy, but he doesn’t carry that clout, ei­ther.

When you look at th­ese Ravens, there is no player on the ros­ter that teams fear any­more. There was a time when the Ravens, even on the road, would cre­ate fear in op­po­nents. Win or lose, the Ravens were go­ing to leave bruises. Not any­more. Bis­ciotti has to find out what went wrong.



De­spite an in­jury to his throw­ing shoul­der that kept him out of all but one prac­tice last week, Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco threw 44 passes against the Jets.

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