It seems to figure, right? The players play, and the coaches coach, and all it seems is that the fans complain. To defend the coaches, even if the plays called are suspect, the players should still be able to execute them correctly for solid gains. In defense of the players, though, if the calls are not the right ones for the down and distance, then it really doesn't matter if they execute. In that case, then what's the problem and even more importantly, what's the solution?
To me, this is an easy one. It's not so much coaching or playing as it appears to be "teaching." During the course of the game, I get so incensed at the "little things" that seem to be missing as far as the basics of football. For example, why in the world did Ed Reed fair catch a punt at the Ravens own four yard line!? Isn't it taught way back in high school at the latest that you stand on the ten yard line and if you need to step back to catch it, you let it fall, most likely for a touchback. The odds that it will bounce in a way that the punting team can down it before it goes into the end zone is slim. It's not good to even try a return because you'd need at least 16 yards to make the 20 yard line at a minimum, but to fair catch it is insane. That bonehead play led to a Ravens punt from the end zone and my second beef of the Ravens poor performance in the basic skills of football.
Punter Bill Koch has not been very impressive all season long, constantly shanking punts and rarely putting the ball inside the twenty. Too many times the Ravens have punted from their opponents 35-40 yard line and he puts it into the end zone for a touchback and a net gain of 15-20 yards! I don't buy the response to those people like me who wonder where the 'coffin kick' has gone. They say it is a lost skill and today's punters are better at dropping the ball inside the goal line than those of yesteryear. Back to the game, where Koch punted from deep in his end zone only out to around the Ravens 40 yard line and of course, Cleveland's Josh Cribbs returned it all the way to the Ravens 10 yard line, setting up a short touchdown drive for the Browns. You can blame it on a poor punt or poor punt coverage, but it still comes back to why did you fair catch the ball on the four yard line, Ed?
Next issue from Sunday's game that has appeared throughout the season: When other teams have 3rd or 4th down and long yardage, they split out four and five-wide receiver sets. This spreads out the defensive secondary, limiting double coverage and forcing the secondary into a lot of zone coverages. In addition, it limits the number of rushers and blitzing schemes the defense can afford to show due to the need to drop defenders into the secondary. While it also limits the number of blockers the offense can keep in to protect the quarterback, the QB still needs to release the ball pretty quickly. If you send out four wide, you still have six blockers to protect the QB, which certainly should be enough if the QB gets the ball away. On Sunday the Ravens went for a fourth down where the pass was the only option on this play. However, the best the Ravens could throw at the Browns defense was three receivers against six defensive backs in coverage. Of course, Boller went long for an incomplete pass, when all he needed was around seven yards. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, as most NFL teams can blanket three receivers with six defenders no matter what the routes are.
This pattern of basic play calling and basic skills that the players should have learned as youngsters and reinforced by their coaches just seems to be lacking and is obvious every game, especially in critical situations. All in all, I see three games (at Cincy, at Buffalo, last week vs. Cleveland) that simple basic skills by the players and even simpler play calling could have allowed the Ravens to win each of those games. 7-3 looks a heck of a lot better to me than the current 4-6. Where do they go from here? I have no confidence that either will improve under the current leadership. If it does, I stand corrected, while at the same time, if it doesn't, then a change is thereby dictated by this disturbing trend.
Tomorrow I dissect the problems related to the interior linemen, both on offense and defense.
Oh, by the way, my picks for today are:
Lions over Packers
Cowboys over Jets
Colts over Falcons
Happy Thanksgiving to all!