First off, wow the loss yesterday was embarrassing. Really no words to describe the Bengals 27-10 domination of the Ravens on Sunday. Whatever’s been said by fans, media, or here on Baltimore Beatdown, has already said it for me or anyone else for that matter. Aside from a few players like Steve Smith Sr,. Joe Flacco, Dennis Pitta, Kenneth Dixon and Eric Weddle, it felt like every player on the Ravens sideline quit and were ready to begin the offseason.
With the official conclusion of the 2016 season for the Baltimore Ravens, its time to look at the positives and negatives of this 8-8 campaign. Yes, believe or not there were positives. Things to look forward to seeing improve for next year and things that need to get fixed ASAP. So, lets take a look at the positives.
Joe Flacco's improved play in the second half
This was a very uneven and roller coaster season for the Ravens quarterback. Coming off a torn ACL and MCL from the year before and only playing in two drives in the preseason, Flacco came into the 2016 season with a lot of uncertainty of how he would respond with the knee brace on him and how he would handle pressure from opposing defenses. Through the first half of the season, Flacco struggled. He didn't move out of the pocket much, he seemed uncomfortable in the pocket and very unsure of himself. He was also under duress at times with the absence of left tackle Ronnie Stanley. All of this resulted in poor performances against teams such as the Washington Redskins and New York Jets resulting in losses that hurt the team down the road. The Redskins loss also resulted in the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and the promoting of Marty Mornhinweg. Flacco's fifth offensive coordinator in five years. However, after the bye week, Flacco seemed to get better. He looked more comfortable and moved around in the pocket. Flacco looked like a healthier and different quarterback in the second half of 2016. While he didn't necessarily play well against the Bengals on Sunday, the fact is, he never should've played in the first place. Be happy he left unscathed, just look at C.J. Mosley. Unfortunately for Flacco, if Mornhinweg isn't retained, the new offensive coordinator will be Flacco's sixth in the last six years. Whoever it is, they must help Flacco be put in a much better position to succeed in 2017 than he was this year. Eleven times this season Flacco had 40 or more passing attempts in a game, unnacceptable. Flacco will have to build upon his good second half of this season into 2017. If he does, the Ravens will be in a good position to make the playoffs next year; especially if the Ravens get the offensive coordinator position right. That's the big elephant in the room.
The Ravens have a running game
Well, if they use it. Imagine how different this season would've been if the team did not abandon the run as often as they did? Who knows, they might have a home playoff game next weekend? We'll never know, but the fact is, the Ravens have a strong running game with a young hungry feature back moving forward. This isn't like 2013 when the Ravens couldn't run the football. This year, they flat out refused to run it. They refused to run the football with two running backs playing very well this year. It was mind boggling. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon made one heck of a one-two punch for a Ravens rushing attack that started with Justin Forsett. Not only were they both tremendous out of the backfield, they were viable weapons for Flacco in the passing game. While West had a good year and was definitely motivated after jumping around to three teams the year before, it was Dixon who stole the show, getting better as the season went along. Dixon runs with force combined with speed and power. He hits a hole hard and it takes a lot to bring him down. He's the Ravens energizer bunny, he just keeps moving. While Ozzie Newsome's drafts have been subpar to say the least, he might've hit a home run and finally found the team's true replacement for Ray Rice in the form of Kenneth Dixon. Again, whoever the Ravens offensive coordinator is next season, they must emphasize running the football. It will help out Flacco, this offense and the team as a whole.
Rookies standing out
I mentioned before how Ozzie Newsome struggled come draft day in recent years but then again, it’s no secret. This isn't a topic brought up recently because it has been discussed for years now. His drafts overall have been bad, but the 2016 draft class looks promising. Since the draft, many have argued the Ravens should've traded with the Cowboys to get Jalen Ramsey, or even lose on purpose last year to get someone like Joey Bosa instead of going for the wins in an otherwise lost season, but the fact is the team's sixth overall pick from the 2016 draft, Ronnie Stanley, became one of the main cogs in the Ravens offensive line this year. All you have to do is look at how different the line was with Stanley compared to how they played in the four games without him. While many might complain they should've selected a receiver or a cornerback with the sixth pick, they took a left tackle who will protect their quarterback and create holes in the running game for years to come. Kenneth Dixon is a walking diesel, Tavon Young became the team's number two cornerback with Jimmy Smith on the opposite side and Alex Lewis played well at left guard. Even Chris Moore produced on special teams and Bronson Kaufusi is coming back next year after suffering a broken ankle in training camp. The only true negative is second round pick Kamalei Correa. The linebacker was inactive for seven games; in the nine games he played, he was limited in terms of defensive snaps and only recorded 4 tackles. The Ravens need Correa to be a lot better next year. He can't be Arthur Brown.
Free Agents paying off
Not only has Ozzie not been good in terms of the draft, he has been hit-and-miss signing free agents. Guys like Michael Huff, Marcus Spears, Kyle Arrington and Devin Hester come to mind as guys who didn't pan out. This year was a different story with Mike Wallace and Eric Weddle both producing. If not for the torn Achilles, I’m certain Ben Watson would've produced for this offense, landing his name amongt the other 2016 signings. Weddle became the safety the team needed since the departure of Ed Reed. He provided stability, leadership and produced for a secondary that has struggled for years now. Weddle finished the year with 85 total tackles, 1 sack and 4 interceptions. As for Wallace, he was a guy who was called a one-trick pony after his departure from the Minnesota Vikings and some declared him done. Wallace came to the Ravens and reminded folks he is a complete player. He became a speed threat for Flacco and was a playmaker for an offense lacking playmakers. Wallace finished the year with 72 receptions for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns. The Ravens will look for both to keep on producing heading into 2017.
Justin Tucker was the team's MVP
Yes, this is a negative. Tucker was the best kicker in football this year and only had two "misses" this year. Those two "misses" came on a blocked field goal against the Patriots and a botched snap last week in Pittsburgh. Tucker was great, but the problem is relying on Tucker too much due to the team's offensive woes. In 2016, no team should rely on their kicker that much in a season, no matter how good they are. This is something that needs to be fixed next year. More touchdowns, less field goals. Sorry Justin.
They stunk it up, plain and simple. Every member of the coaching staff was terrible this year. Marc Trestman's game planning was questionable to say the least and Mornhinweg's was just as bad, if not worse. Trestman was fired and Mornhinweg could very well be next in line. Once again, defensive coordinator Dean Pees turned in another pitiful performance coaching up this defense this year. Don't let whatever stats you see on NFL.com fool you, this defense was overrated all year long and were absolutely terrible over the last four games of the season. Dean Pees fooled the Ravens for far too long. His lack of game planning, putting players in the wrong position to succeed, lack of development of players and his "bend-but-don't break defense" ran its course. If Mornhinweg goes, Pees must go with him. Then there's John Harbaugh. How funny is it that Harbaugh followed a 5-11 season where you can make the case he did one of his best coaching performances, with his worst coaching performance in an 8-8 season where the team was in playoff contention until the second to last week of the year. Questionable decision making such as the god-awful fake field goal attempt against the Redskins and allowing the terrible play call against the Eagles both come to mind. The accepted penalty against the Raiders allowing their offense another down rather than a fourth and short in punting range also is remembered. Questionable use of his timeouts and challenge flags and to top it all off, missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Come next year, its either put up or shut up for John Harbaugh. His reputation as a head coach depends on next season.
Difficult to count the problems with this offense during the 2016 season. This was a combination of everything going wrong. Turnovers, penalties, bad playcalling, it didn't matter, it happened and the offense spiraled. No consistency and absolutely no identity with this offense all season long. Even though the identity was staring at the Ravens coaches right in front of their faces, they never found it. It wasn't hard to see though. Sad thing is, this offense showed at times what they can do. This offense does have potential. They need a direction and an identity. Nine months for the front office to find it.
The Defense wasn't as good as advertised
"Vaunted." "Stout." "The best in football." Those are the words the national and local media said about this defense. To start the year, the defense was as stout and as dominant as they have looked in a long time. Thing is, when they faced good offenses, like the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, they failed. Yet, it went largely ignored, until the final four games of the season. The New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals dominated the Ravens defense. The exact defense being ranked top five was exposed for good. Any team losing Jimmy Smith would be difficult, but the lack of depth at the cornerback position, aside from Tavon Young, was also exposed. Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta need to find secondary players.
A lack of a pass-rush also hurt. Matt Judon showed promise, but Za'Darius Smith severely regressed. Suggs and Dumervil disappeared over the last four games while Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan slowed down as the season went along. One of the biggest draft needs going into next year in the first two rounds will be addressing the pass rush; especially with the expected departure of Elvis Dumervil.
There are sure to be many changes with this team as we head towards the 2017 season; this team will look a lot different, Steve Bisciotti will make sure of it. The question is, will it change for the better? Can they finally get the offensive coordinator position right? Can they finally say "enough is enough" to Dean Pees? From watching this season, these are what I felt are the team's positives and negatives after the 2016 campaign. I don't think its all doom and gloom. The team has talent, they just need to find the correct direction on their radar. If they do, they can make the postseason next year. The next several months are going to be very interesting at the Castle.