FanPost

Where can the Ravens go from here?

The Ravens current sit at last place in the AFC North, with a 1-4 record including two home divisional losses. Any hope of turning this season around and reaching the playoffs is unlikley at best. This post will attempt to spark discussion on how the Ravens can change the direction of the franchise and become a better team in the future.

I will admit that I overestimated this team. I predicted a 12 or 13 win season along with a Super Bowl appearance, and claimed the Ravens were among the top 2 franchises in the league during the offseason. The assumptions that Trestman could replicate Kubiak's success on offense and that a healthier, more experienced secondary would compensate for a lesser pass rush were misguided. Injuries are the main culprit for the disappointing season, however, all levels of the organization have room for improvement.

The cold truth is that the Ravens have not been a true contender since the 2012 Super Bowl victory and subsequent departure of iconic leaders from the roster. Since the start of the 2013 season, a period spanning 39 games including playoffs, the Ravens have produced a total of 1 marquee win, the wild card win in Pittsburgh after the 2014 regular season. Outside of this lone statement win, the Ravens have been unable defeat any of the best teams at home or on the road, and also unable to beat any playoff caliber teams on the road.

It is clear to me that the Ravens franchise is headed in the wrong direction. Below are some suggestions on how to turn the team back into the Ravens that the fans have grown to know, love and be proud of over the last 20 years:

Front Office:

In my opinion the front office did well to build a contender this season, and the national media seemed to agree before the season started. Ozzie and Co did a solid job with the resources available to them, even if some of the additions have not worked out, yet the FO is accountable for the limited resource situation.

1. Salary cap management - Too many backloaded contracts over the years have left the team in a constant state of salary cap tightness. Ozzie's stated plan to always be competitive without having any rebuilding seasons does not work when the team is always forced to release core veterans when they don't play up to their backloaded contracts. The dead money eventually catches up. On the topic of another heavily backloaded contract, the time is now to begin discussions on reducing Flacco's cap hit, with a subtle reminder to Joe that his frequent bouts of inaccuracy are simply not good enough, regardless of his supporting cast. The Ravens were fair to Flacco by making him the highest paid QB when he deserved it after the SB, now it is Joe's turn to take a haircut when the team deserves it. Other moves should include moving past Pitta's contract and taking a hard look at Suggs, Webb and Monroe's deals. Not every big contract will be earned completely, but too many players are not providing bang for the buck to field a top team right now.

2. Avoiding Injury Prone Players - I am not sure what to make of the Ravens injury epidemic over the last few season, but the FO needs to recognize this problem and do what they can to minimize injury risk. The Pitta, Rice, Webb and Canty contracts all carried significant injury risk when signed. Using draft picks on guys like Campanaro, who could not stay healthy is college, is another practice to reevaluate. Ozzie needs to get back to prioritizing bigger, stronger players in FA and the draft, as they are less injury prone and help the team impose their will over games.

3. Draft - BPA is a great strategy, until it produces a lopsided roster that does not place emphasis on the positions most important in today's passing centric NFL. Between the 2012-2014 drafts, the Ravens used at least 9 of their 10 Day 1 and Day 2 picks on players who excelled in the run game on both sides of the ball. In the 2015 draft, the Ravens did spend their first 2 picks on pass catchers, but then took another DT in the 3rd round. While many of these picks look like they will yield strong core players, asset allocation should have been spread out better to bolster the passing game on both sides of the ball. Enough hoarding of Day 3 picks and being content to see who is left or trade back, be aggressive and move around to target the highest graded players at the positions where help is needed most.

4. Complimentary players - Between free agency and the draft, the front office has decided to build a roster full of quality complimentary players at the expense of star caliber players. Time and again, the front office has chosen safe draft picks from small schools in the mid to late rounds instead of taking a chance on a player with elite talent who faced top competition in college but has a higher bust potential. This complimentary player focus is also apparent in FA, where the money given out to Schaub, Canty and Arrington this last offseason would have been better utilized in combination to attract a pass rusher such as Jabaal Sheard or find a way to keep Pernell McPhee in the fold. The front office has been too content to settle for leftovers like Darian Stewart lately. As much as Ozzie is known for avoiding big FA contracts, it is important to note that the first Ravens Championship team was aided by veteran FA additions Woodson, Sharpe and Adams. The team needs more playmakers and speedy game breakers to compete at the highest level of the NFL today.

Coaching:

Coach Harbaugh has improved his in game aggressiveness immensely over the last few season, yet the weekly gamelans are still vanilla and passive. Bottom line, the coaches have not done enough to enforce proper technique or improve on field communication to win games this season. For this reason, the coaches are the biggest reason for the disappointing season, outside of injuries that are not within the team's control.

1. Alpha males - The Ravens need more tough guys on their roster. There is a serious lack of leadership, especially on offense. Suggs, Yanda & Steve Smith are the only real leaders on the roster from my vantage point and they all have questionable short term futures with the team. Coach Harbaugh needs to recognize this deficiency and modify the qualities he looks for in his players going forward. To have badass teams like Harbs hoped for in the preseason, you need badass players.

2. Fire Pees ASAP - Regardless of how much of the defensive struggles are his fault, he is simply not getting the job done. Way too many journeymen QBs having career days against the Ravens, blown 4th quarter leads and inexperienced QBs having their way with the historically strong Ravens defenses during the entirety of Pees tenure. His bend don't break philosophy does not work without an aggressive offense to set up the D and/or veteran defensive roster who can out execute modern offenses with superior assignment defense. Time is of the essence for Pees' release, he is clearly not part of the long term solution. Whether a new DC comes from within or outside of the organization, using the rest of this season to employ an attacking defense will certainly help the young players development for future season.

3. Offensive scheme - Trestman deserves more time. Would like to see him continue to mix up run/pass playcalling and devote his full focus to finding ways to get the offensive playmakers the ball in space. Big chunk plays and yards after the catch win most games in the NFL today, Ravens should modernize their offense to focus on this.

4. Creativity - Bring some innovative young minds to the staff. The way the game is played is changing in both college and the NFL. More spread formations, hurry up offenses, passing centered gamelans and rules promoting scoring. Even in the rough AFCN, the Ravens need to be able to modify their gameplans pending game flow and weekly opponent. The old stale philosophies employed by the Harbs coaching staffs need refinement. Make some aggressive hires this offseason and develop a system where promoting young assistants from within when a coordinator position becomes available is possible instead of hiring more retreads.

Players:

Only a handful of the players are playing at a consistently high level through the first 5 games. Player underperformance is a combination of the coaches and front office not putting the players in the best position for success and certainly the players simply not playing good enough. Without knowing the inner workings of the organization, we cannot determine exactly why the players are not performing up to their abilities. It is apparent that this season should be viewed as an evaluation period going forward, so that the players ability is clearly understood for next season.

1. Secondary - Kendrick Lewis is missing way to many tackles to continue as a starter. Brooks and Arrington are not viable cornerbacks in this defense. Time to bench Lewis for either Brooks or Arrington. The Ravens must straighten out the free safety situation for the 2016 season after the horrendous free safety play over the last 3 seasons.

2. Wide receiver - Hope to see Permian on the field at some point this season. If he can make some plays, then WR can be addressed with a mid tier veteran for 2016, if not, the Ravens need a high draft pick and a veteran WR for next year. Marlon Brown should also be released, he is maxed out and not worth the roster spot. Better to take a look at Butler or another young WR with untapped potential.

3. Old players - Force Pitta and Canty into retirement. The Ravens need to see what Maxx, Boyle, ZaDarius, Kapron and hopefully Urban can do. It would be counter productive to put Pitta and Canty on the field, hoping for marginal improvement this season, at the expense of the young players development, when they are not part of the long term solution. Giving Art Brown more of Daryl Smith's snaps should also be an evaluation priority.

4. Jon Urschel - I am apprehensive to offer KO a big contract considering his injury history, but he has been playing very well over the last couple weeks. Give Urschel at shot at either Center or OG and see if he can handle a full time role. It would be dangerous to invest heavily in both OG positions and retain a high paid C since the OL will never be dominant without dominant OT play.

In conclusion, the Ravens fall from perennial contender is due to a combination of many factors with injury luck at the forefront. This blog would be better served to discuss ways to improve the team for 2016 instead of debating who is most at fault for the 1-4 start in 2015. I am hoping some of the knowledgeable long time commenters will contribute to a solution centered discussion. Let's put our heads together and find some hope for a Super Bowl team in 2016.

The opinions posted here are those of the writer of this article. They are in no way official comments from the team, the editors of this site or SB Nation as a whole, and should not be misconstrued as such.