Head Coach John Harbaugh announced Thursday that he’s not making any changes to his coaching staff, other than at defensive coordinator with the retirement of Dean Pees. Additional moves will only be made if someone gets a promotion with another NFL team.
That means Harbaugh is sticking with Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, a move that has been debated around Baltimore for much of the year.
“I’m happy we have the coaches we have on defense and on offense, and we’re building going forward,” Harbaugh said.
“I believe in these coaches, I understand the job they did this year because I see it close up, and I think our offense made a heck of a lot of progress, especially considering the adversity that we faced and the challenges that we were up against this year. That is why we are rolling."
In his first full season as the Ravens offensive coordinator, Mornhinweg’s unit finished 27th in the league in yards per game (305.4) and ninth in scoring (24.7 points).
The Ravens had the 29th-ranked passing attack (189.4 yards per game) and 11th-ranked rushing game (116.0).
But Harbaugh pointed out that a deeper dive into the numbers tells a story of two halves.
The Ravens struggled mightily in the first half of the year, particularly with the passing game. But Baltimore had the league’s second-highest scoring offense in the league, trailing only the Los Angeles Rams, since Week 8 (29.4 points per game).
Harbaugh constantly preaches getting “1 percent better,” and that’s what the offense did over the course of the season, despite many challenges that made achieving that goal difficult.
“The bottom line is we improved tremendously,” Harbaugh said.
“We faced a great deal of adversity on offense. I’m not going to stand up here and make excuses, but there were a lot of tough situations that we faced on offense. You deal with those things as they come. You try to find a way to win the next game.”
Many of the challenges on offense came before the season began and shortly thereafter. Here’s the list, in chronological order:
June 2 – Last year’s team receptions leader (and NFL tight ends leader) Dennis Pitta suffers his third major hip injury during Organized Team Activities, ending his career
July 26 – Promising running back Kenneth Dixon tears his ACL before training camp begins and is out for the season
Mid-July – Quarterback Joe Flacco tweaks his back while lifting weights on his own two weeks before training camp begins and misses all of camp and the preseason, and he still isn’t 100 percent when he returns for Week 1, which affects game plans
Aug. 1 – Wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who was having an excellent summer, injures his hamstring during training camp, knocking him out until Week 1
Aug. 11 – Starting left guard Alex Lewis aggravates a shoulder injury and opts for season-ending surgery
Sept. 17 – All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda fractures his ankle in the Week 2 win against the Cleveland Browns, ending his season
There were also season-ending injuries to role players such as tight end Crockett Gillmore (knee), rookie wide receiver Tim White (hand) and rookie guard Nico Siragusa (knee), and a one-year suspension for tight end Darren Waller.
That changed the approach the Ravens took on offense early on this year, which explains some of the statistical shortcomings and conservative approach. Perhaps the biggest factor was Flacco’s back, combined with the loss of the guards.
“I’d say Marty did a great job too of getting Joe from week to week,” Harbaugh said.
“It wasn’t like he came back the first week and he was ready to throw himself 100 percent into a bunch of grinding work, and yet he had missed all the training camp work as well. We had to kind of work him back week to week and make sure he was capable of performing and capable of making it through a game one week to the next.”
Once Flacco’s back improved and the Ravens gained some cohesiveness on the offensive line with James Hurst and Matt Skura at the guard spots, the offense could open things up, and did so.
It started in a 40-0 blowout of the Miami Dolphins in Week 8, continued during bye-week adjustments, then particularly took off with a commitment to be more aggressive following an ugly win over the Houston Texans in late November.
Flacco and the offense were a totally different beast in December, despite Perriman being a healthy scratch and an injury to Jeremy Maclin that kept him out for basically the final three games. Harbaugh pointed to his offensive coaches as part of the reason.
“The creativity that I saw and the ways we schemed guys open, schemed the run game, schemed the pass game, schemed plays to be created, I was happy with that,” Harbaugh said.
“Whether it’s the quarterback that doesn’t go through training camp or both your guards get hurt, or whatever it might be along those lines, you’ve got to find a way to win the next game the best way you can, and we did that. Sometimes it meant trying to win a game a certain way. Other times it meant, let’s try to scheme up some plays, scheme some guys open and things like that.”
The Ravens know they need to improve their offense for next season. In Harbaugh’s view, a healthy Flacco and adding more offensive weapons, specifically in the draft – something he talked about several times Thursday – should go a long way.
“I understand what kind of an offense we’re capable of building,” Harbaugh said. “To me, we’re in a process right now, the process of building that’s been taking place since 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the draft.”