It came as a surprise to many earlier this week when John Harbaugh announced that both his offensive and defensive coordinators will be retained for yet another season. Now that the shock has worn off though, fans and media alike need to move forward and think about what needs to be done to fix this team.
The offense was about as bland as toast as we all know and the defense turned into Swiss Pees as the clock ticked toward zero in close games. Yet, it’s not surprising that Dean Pees was retained given the statistics with which his defense finished off 2016.
Still, the way they performed over their last four games (especially in three must-wins) was particularly alarming.
“We didn’t play nearly as well the last four as we did the first 12,” Harbaugh said of his defense. “I have a couple ideas. I think I know exactly what happened in terms of how we just got loosened up a little bit, in terms of our run defense and our inability to get off the field at the end of games.
“I think ‘finish’ is a good, general way to say it. We didn’t finish games as well toward the end, and we didn’t finish the season. What we didn’t do at the end was we didn’t make the plays that we made early in the season on the back end. We weren’t able to break up passes in critical situations. We weren’t able to get the critical interceptions that put an end to a drives and therefore win you the game. We have to be able to do that. We have to be able to do that with guys making plays. We have to cover people at the end.”
Not finishing has been a phrase surrounding the Ravens for several seasons now. This season, the Ravens lost just one game within three points, four games within seven points and three games by seven points or more. Over their final games that were considered must-wins, the defense crumbled. In Week 14 against the Patriots they were down by just three points in the 4th quarter before blowing it, in Week 15 against Philadelphia they barely did enough to thwart off a surging Eagles offense, and of course they allowed a long TD drive in the final minute to end their season in Week 16 in Pittsburgh.
Harbaugh offered up some reasons for those meltdowns late in games.
“You can’t be playing split safety all the time to protect your back end,” Harbaugh explained, “which opens up your run defense, because it widens your front out, because you have to protect the edges of your front a little more. As well as our inside guys played – our tackles and our linebackers; and they played excellent football all year – at some point in time, when you expand your front enough, there are going to be cracks in there that get run through.
“We have to shore up a couple of positions. We’ll look at scheme. We came a long way with our defense in the last two years. I think we built one of the best defenses in the National Football League. Certainly, it showed through the first 12 weeks of the season and, really, the last eight weeks of last season. We revamped our defense dramatically over the offseason last year.
“I’m really proud of what we did. I think Dean [Pees] did a great job with it. Our coaches did a great job [and] our players. We added a couple key pieces, and we were the best defense in the league for 12 weeks, statistically. We were toward the bottom the last four weeks. That’s exactly the question we have to look at.
“We’ve looked at it really specifically, so that’s a general overview of it – what it is going to take to be the best defense in the league for 16 weeks-plus.”
What it will take on defense?
It’s okay John, I’ll say it – since you can’t (or won’t) point fingers.
It’s going to take a young pass rusher so you’re not relying on a 35-year-old Terrell Suggs or any other aging veteran out there. Matt Judon showed flashes, but what happened to Kamalei Correa? According to Tony Lombardi, the rookie from Boise State was a beast in camp, but then got bogged down in the playbook. With the way this team struggled to pressure the QB all season, why not tell the youngster to ignore the complicated schemes, and just go get the passer? Instead, he was a healthy scratch far too often. Once again, we enter the offseason wondering, who will pressure opposing quarterbacks moving forward?
It’s also going to take help in the secondary – specifically at cornerback. You’ve known for years that Jimmy Smith struggles to stay healthy. While the team looks to have a winner with Tavon Young, he is still raw. After him? There isn’t much that is going to scare offensive coordinators. The lack of quality depth at CB is not a new problem. Veteran stopgaps like Kyle Arrington and Jerraud Powers have been poor to mediocre at best. The position needs to be a priority.
Above all, it will take TALENT. That means a hard, serious look at the scouts who are finding these players only to have them end up as game day inactives or negated to special teams.
It’s going to take a lot.
If the entire organization gets on board and not only sees, but commits to addressing these issues, then this can truly be a top NFL defense for all four quarters. If not, then we will continue to watch lead after lead disappear as we’ve grown accustomed to. We’ll also keep doing something else to which we’ve grown accustomed – being on the outside looking in come January.
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