These are some of the comments that have been made describing the Ravens’ win against the New York Jets. I am not so sure that these are accurate assessments because, well, it was the New York Jets—a woeful team that has somehow found a way to still be relevant in week 13 of the NFL season. How much can one actually take away from a game like this?
That being said, there were some encouraging signs from the game. The key will be for the Ravens to stack another game like this, showing signs that they are getting better, not merely riding the roller coaster of inconsistency. This week’s Thanksgiving opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has overcome a horrendous start and is beginning to hit a stride of consistency—the team appears to be getting better each and every week. I will discuss more about this game in this week’s Plotlines post.
Back to the Jets’ game. Here is this week’s Reality Assessment, where we examine a couple of elements that have been hot topics this week, and maybe a couple of angles that have not been overly discussed.
The over-analysis of the Ravens unleashing the wildcat has been a bit perplexing. On one hand, I totally understand, and applaud, the team using it this past week against the Jets. It was a level of creativity to get the run game going. However, the part that I don’t quite understand is how people are implying, suggesting, and/or inferring that it is slap to the face of quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Ravens’ run game is brutal. They have switched philosophies mid-season, run from the pistol formation, run from a single-back alignment, run from the traditional I-formation, and tried to go heavy with jumbo packages of extra linemen. Nothing has gotten the run game untracked (unless you count running against the Chicago Bears).
Facing the top-ranked run defense in the Jets was a lost cause. The Ravens needed to employ anything that would provide a spark, or uncertainty, to throw off the Jets. Enter the wildcat.
This strategy had nothing to do with “not trusting Joe Flacco,” or “taking the ball out of his hands,” or “lining him up merely as a decoy.” That would be what the Jets wanted to do--limit the impact of quarterback Geno Smith. The wildcat had nothing to do with Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the offense and throw the ball. In fact, I would argue that it was a way to soften up the defense in a way we haven’t yet seen this year in order for Flacco to be more effective off play-action, which is his strength. The Ravens’ use of the wildcat is anti-Jets—the Ravens are trying to give Flacco a running game so he can have a chance to execute the mid-range ball and the deep ball.
Plain and simple, the wildcat was a way for the Ravens to run the ball. If the Ravens could run the ball, this strategy would be tucked away quite awhile longer. Even Flacco needs to understand that this is only one way to help the overall offense.
This week, I believe we will see Taylor throw the ball more than once against the Steelers. Again, using the wildcat will not be a shot against Flacco, but instead it will provide another level of unpredictability that, when used in acute moderation, will throw off the opposing team’s defense. The Ravens didn’t have great success—seven total rushing yards on four attempts, 0 passing yards on one attempt—but that isn’t necessarily the point. The Ravens are merely trying to bring some sort of balance back to the offense.
No team, and I repeat, no team can have long-term success while being one-dimensional—no matter who is the quarterback.
Cautiously Assessing the Defense
There is has been quite a bit of chatter about how the Ravens’ defensive players have begun to reassert themselves. There has been some talk about how the defense needs to take over games—how the unit is capable of dominating.
From the Baltimore Sun, "It's our show, and that's how we look at it," said safety James Ihedigbo. "On defense, we know how we have to play to win. We have to dominate and take over the game."
"Let's try to win a game on our own," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, also from the Baltimore Sun.
I am all for this type of mindset. But let’s keep things in perspective—this game was against the inept Jets. Up until this game, the Ravens’ defense has been better known for allowing key drives to be sustained, and for squandering leads.
The last time there was an uproar around town about the defense being dominant was week two against the Houston Texans. Then came week three’s game—the Blunder in Buffalo.
Hopefully, the Jets’ game is something for the Ravens to build on. The secondary has been steadily improving, the front seven is starting to be assertive, and we saw some turnovers this week. As the cohesiveness of this unit continues to develop, so too will its confidence. Let’s hope consistency will be achieved.
Coaching was Sound
The coaches get an A- this week. There were no dumb challenges, no major clock management issues, and creativity on offense.
It was interesting to hear the boos, read the criticism, and listen to the complaints on talk radio about John Harbaugh’s decision to keep his timeouts in his pocket at the end of the first half. Dan Dierdoirf didn’t like it either, but does his opinion count?
I was screaming, “No timeouts! No timeout!” This was very thing we all complained about against Miami, Green Bay, and Chicago—trying to do too much, trying to be too aggressive. The best case scenario was that they would have a little over a minute to work with and a timeout. Dealing with the windy conditions, a six point lead, and getting the ball to start the second half? Being conservative was definitely the right call.
Ray Lewis' Comments
It is official. We have finally exhausted the term “elite quarterback.” However, all we have really done is simply replace the term with the now-in-vogue expression and discussion of “(insert name here) can (or cannot) carry a team’s offense.”
Ray Lewis has now chimed in on this debate, and he took a swipe at Flacco this past Sunday. During ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, Lewis said, “There’s no real balance that [the] Baltimore Ravens have right now and they want to make Joe Flacco—they gave him $100 million, I understand that—they want to make Joe Flacco a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He’s not that type of guy. He’s a system type of guy that if you have the balance—that you have running the ball, doing the things you need to do—then Joe Flacco excels.” He may still be smarting after Flacco’s zinger from earlier this season.
As I have stated a number of times, Flacco is not Brady, or Manning, or Rodgers, or even Brees. So I agree with Lewis on that matter. Let’s not forget that Flacco, though he is in a similar situation as Brady in regard to his offensive weapons, plays behind a totally different offensive line than the others above. Once the offensive line was settled last season, we all watched Flacco “carry” the team to a Super Bowl.
My issue with all of this nonsense is that this whole debate is flawed. No team, and I repeat, no team can have long-term success while being one-dimensional—no matter who is the quarterback. Every quarterback needs balance and other pieces around him to be successful.
Show me a championship-winning quarterback who didn’t have winning pieces around him. You can’t. Joe Montana had weapons everywhere and an awesome defense. Troy Aikman—same as Montana. Brett Favre had Reggie White’s defense and Desmond Howard’s (the game’s MVP) special teams. John Elway found a running game. Brady had balance, as did Brees, Eli (defense), and Big Ben (Antwaan Randle El threw more touchdowns than Ben in SB 40, and James Harrison was a difference-maker in SB 43). Balance, my friends.
I will go a step further. It is easier to find teams that won in spite of the quarterback because of the pieces around him. The Redskins—Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, the Giants—Jeff Hostetler, the Ravens—Trent Dilfer, and the Buccaneers—Brad Johnson.
The best friend of every quarterback, and football team for that matter, is balance.