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Inconsistent Ravens reflect flawed franchise strategy

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Baltimore continues to find themselves ‘stuck in the middle’

Baltimore Ravens Rookie Camp Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Heading into a crucial matchup with their most hated rival, the Baltimore Ravens have dropped two straight games and leave much to be desired with their 4-4 record. The 2018 season is starting to form an eerily familiar narrative. A story arc in which the Ravens narrowly miss a wild card berth, left to draft just between the full rebuild franchises and the teams on the cusp of breaking through in 2019.

Call it pessimism or realism, but the Ravens front office has floundered in the years since sending Ray Lewis into retirement with a Super Bowl ring. With just a singular postseason victory since hoisting the Lombardi almost five years ago, the Ravens have faded into the background of the NFL landscape.

Attempting to infuse hope into a disgruntled and disappointed fan base, Baltimore has cycled through coordinators and continuously made humble but strategic additions to try to revive Joe Flacco’s tenure as the franchise quarterback. After becoming Super Bowl MVP, Flacco received an inflated contract that has proven to be more of a crippling cap constraint than an worthwhile investment for the organization.

In drafting Lamar Jackson in April, the Ravens followed their own ineffective playbook. The move was just bold enough to bring excitement and speculation into Baltimore’s offseason. However, questions about Jackson’s ability to become an NFL-caliber quarterback kept the status quo, never truly threatening Flacco’s position on the depth chart. Time and time again, Baltimore has flirted with dramatic change only to make incremental tweaks to a team that has failed to make any real noise since 2014.

In a league that is defined by parity, rapid change and evolving strategy, to be stagnant is to become inconsequential. The Ravens have not finished with double digit wins in three seasons, yet have won just enough contests to push them down draft boards. In the last four drafts, Baltimore has selected in the top 10 just once, drafting Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in 2016. In that same draft, the currently undefeated Los Angeles Rams traded up to select Jared Goff and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles did the same to pick Carson Wentz.

More aggressive franchises have rebuilt their rosters, transformed their coaching staff and revamped their front office personnel. In contrast, Baltimore has attempted to lean on their trademark defense without success.

Ravens Rankings 2015-2018

Year Total Offense Rank (YPG) Total Defense Rank (YPG)
Year Total Offense Rank (YPG) Total Defense Rank (YPG)
2018 14th 1st
2017 17th 26th
2016 12th 27th
2015 25th 14th

Through eight games, the Ravens have improved compared to prior years, yet find themselves on the fringe entering a season-defining home game against the Steelers. If the Ravens fall short on Sunday, Baltimore will have a losing record and just one divisional victory on the year. With the AFC West likely to have two postseason representatives in the Chiefs and Chargers, the Ravens will be in familiar territory, fighting until the waning seconds of Week 17 to clinch that final wild card spot. If Baltimore fails to reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, it is hard to envision a scenario where John Harbaugh keeps his job. With Eric DeCosta set to take over for Ozzie Newsome in 2019, the timing would be optimal for the new general manager to start positioning the franchise in an entirely new direction.