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Eisenberg: Bolstering Defense Is Part Of Surrounding Joe Flacco With Right Tools


In his media session at the NFL owners meetings earlier this week, Head Coach John Harbaugh reiterated the Ravens' mantra for this offseason: Give Joe a chance.

Owner Steve Bisciotti said it months ago. The Ravens believe their key to success going forward is giving their Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, the tools to succeed. General Manager Ozzie Newsome has made several similar comments. Harbaugh couldn't have stated it more clearly.

"We need to build the best team around him that enhances his skillset. That's what we're really trying to do is build a team around him that makes Joe's skillset most effective. That's our job, that's my job," Harbaugh said.

I couldn't agree more, and I'm sure most Ravens fans do too. Although he struggled in 2016, Flacco is in select company as an active quarterback who has led a team to a Super Bowl triumph. There's no guesswork as to what can happen when he's in the right circumstances. It's the organization's job to put him in those circumstances.

That is prompting uneasiness, though, because the front office has focused more on the defense than the offense since free agency began.

The offense had bigger problems in 2016, finishing with a No. 21 league ranking, but the Ravens' biggest moves have bolstered their defense, which was ranked No. 7. The signings of safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr and incumbent nose tackle Brandon Williams send the clear message that the Ravens intend to field a stout defense.

There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's how the Ravens have rolled for years. But the only major offensive move has been adding running back Danny Woodhead.

The offense actually has experienced more subtractions than additions and currently needs a starting right tackle, starting center and another productive receiver – all key positions.

Yet even if those jobs are still vacant later this month, the Ravens might use their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on another defensive piece such as a pass rusher or inside linebacker. Those positions, receiver and offensive lineman are currently the likeliest targets.

Regardless, I can see why some fans fear the Ravens aren't giving Flacco enough of the tools he needs to make the offense hum.

But an important point is missing from that dialogue. Bolstering the defense is also part of the job of surrounding Flacco with the best team possible. I would even argue it's a key part of the job.

If a stronger defense isn't a vital tool that can help him succeed, what is?

Even in what was a subpar year for him, Flacco had the Ravens ahead in the second half of five games they wound up losing in 2016. Each time, the defense faltered.

Against the New York Giants on October 16, Flacco directed a 75-yard drive that produced a go-ahead touchdown with two minutes, four seconds to play. The lead lasted less than a minute and the Giants won.

With the season on the line in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, Flacco again directed a 75-yard drive that produced a go-ahead late touchdown, this time with 78 seconds to play. But the Steelers trumped that with a winning score in the final seconds.

I'm not trying to defend Flacco's season, which, by his own admission, was not good enough. Bisciotti stated in January that the team expects more from its franchise quarterback.

But if the defense had protected those late leads (and there were others), Flacco's season would have looked a lot different in the rear-view mirror.

A stronger defense in 2017 would be huge for Flacco. He wouldn't have to do as much to deliver wins. There'd be less pressure on him. And what he did provide would hold up better.

That doesn't mean the Ravens can slack off the job of giving him the best possible supporting cast. Those offensive job vacancies are glaring. Flacco needs better protection than he received last season. His complement of weapons needs work. This isn't a secret.

But the draft lies just ahead, and another round of veterans will become free agents after that. The Ravens still have plenty of time, more than five months, to address their offense.

I'm sure they'll bolster Flacco's tool kit. But they already have.

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