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Eisenberg: What Ravens' Repeated Use Of The F-Word Means


When I listen to the Ravens discussing what went wrong in 2016 and what they need to fix going forward, I keep hearing the f-word. 

No, not THAT f-word. Sheesh, I'm operating a family-friendly column here. 

The f-word I keep hearing is finish. As in, that's what the Ravens didn't do last season. 

Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was the latest to bring it up last week at Brandon Carr's introductory press conference. 

"We felt like at times last year we were very good on defense, but we were just lacking something a little bit here and there to finish the job. We think we got a guy now that can finish the job, and that is what we're looking forward to," Pees said. 

There are other examples. Here's Head Coach John Harbaugh assessing the defense after the season: "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." 

And here's tight end Dennis Pitta on the offense: "We had a lot of explosive plays, and we were able to move the ball with some consistency, but at the end of the day in critical situations, we didn't quite finish." 

The word keeps coming up for a reason. While the Ravens were good enough to make a playoff push in 2016, their inability to "finish" is indeed a thread running throughout the explanation for why they fell short. Consider: 

-  Their offense generated 68 scores (combined touchdowns and field goals), good for a No. 13 league ranking. But it ranked No. 26 in touchdowns. In other words, it consistently moved the ball into scoring range but couldn't finish the drives with touchdowns. 

  • The defense was ranked No. 1 in the league entering the final month of the season, but ended No. 7 after a rough December that included a crucial fourth-quarter meltdown in Pittsburgh. 
  • The Ravens had the lead in the second half of five games they wound up losing. 

Any way you slice it, the inability to finish was an issue. But what can the Ravens do about it going forward? How can they fix what ailed them? 

Interesting question. 

Ordinarily, a team's problem gets addressed in practice. After the Ravens set a franchise record for fewest interceptions in a season in 2015, they ginned up an assortment of drills designed to increase awareness and ball skills. Golf balls flew at training camp. Basically, it became a focus. And that focus paid off. The Ravens went from six interceptions in 2015 to 18 in 2016. 

But you can't practice finishing the same way. Above stats notwithstanding, it's a concept. 

In high society, you can send someone to finishing school to learn manners. But in football? Maybe you could bring a psychologist into team meetings to help set a collective mindset, but beyond that, from a practical standpoint, you can't do much. How would you drill guys on the fundamentals of finishing? 

My two cents, what you can do is just get better, period. More consistent, period. Isn't that what the Ravens' repeated use of the f-word is really about? 

The offense didn't finish enough drives in 2016 because, frankly, it wasn't quite good enough, as a handful of other metrics indicate. The unit did have its positive moments, especially in that key game in Pittsburgh, but big picture, it lacked playmakers and endured long dry spells. 

If it improves in 2017, if it has more pop, you'll see more drives reach the end zone. 

The same goes for the defense. It certainly was dominant at times in 2016, but it struggled against strong offenses, especially those with top quarterbacks and No. 1 receivers. If the back end is tighter, if everything is tighter, it shouldn't falter late in the season. That's what the major investments in Carr, safety Tony Jefferson and nose tackle Brandon Williams are all about. 

A defense that plays better in general also finishes better. 

And I do believe the same goes for an entire team.

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