Ravens Pull Off Major Coup With Gary Kubiak
Within 24 hours of being knocked out of the playoffs, you got the sense that the Ravens have unfinished business.
Moments after the loss to the Patriots, Joe Flacco proclaimed, "We’ll be back." Steve Smith Sr. quickly squashed retirement questions, announcing he's ready for another run in Baltimore. Running back Justin Forsett wants out of the "friend zone" with a long-term commitment, and hopes it's with the Ravens. Torrey Smith isn’t interested in testing free agency, and hopes to get a deal done with Baltimore before he can even talk with other teams.
But perhaps the biggest – and surprising – news of all is that Gary Kubiak has essentially said, "Thanks, but no thanks," to three potential head coaching gigs (and maybe even more had he not taken himself out of the conversation so quickly).
You know what a coup is, right? A coup d'etat.
Losing Kubiak would have been a "huge blow," says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
Not only would quarterback Joe Flacco have had his fourth coordinator in as many years, but a chunk of the offensive staff would have needed rebuilding, too. Zrebiec said Kubiak likely would have taken Quarterbacks Coach Rick Dennison and Tight Ends Coach Brian Pariani with him.
All the offensive players just learned the zone-stretch run system under Kubiak, and that certainly would have been disrupted, if not completely scratched in favor of a new system depending on who was hired to replace Kubiak.
But they didn't have to go down that route. He is staying after an "offensive renaissance" in a single season, "going from a struggling attack that essentially hit bottom in 2013 to one that broke franchise records," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"[F]or the Ravens offense, nothing this offseason will top the news that broke Sunday night."
Under Kubiak, the offense had its highest ranking in the 19 years of the Ravens' existence. It set franchise records in points and yards. Flacco had the best statistical season of his career. The rushing attack overcame the loss of Ray Rice, and still went from the NFL's worst mark in yards per carry to No. 7.
That all happened in just one year.
Can you imagine what lies ahead in Year 2?
It's that success that Kubiak was a hot candidate to become a head coach again. So why didn't he do it?
Why did he turn down the opportunity to be the top dog again? He could have run his own show again, presumably for much more money.
Perhaps it was the quarterback, as FoxSports.com suggests:
"Given the choice to try to turn Jay Cutler or Geno Smith into a winner or keep riding with the one he's got, Gary Kubiak chose the latter. Even if it means a lower pay grade."
Perhaps he didn't see a situation that suited him. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain covered Kubiak for eight years as the head coach of the Houston Texans, and offered his take: "Kubiak knows he’ll get one more chance to be a head coach. Has to be what he considers the right situation."
Perhaps he just loves being with the Ravens, which is what NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted before Saturday's game in Foxborough. Just read Kubiak's own words: he and Head Coach John Harbaugh "are building something great."
Whatever the reason, Kubiak's decision has Ravens fans dancing and smiling in their living rooms Monday morning after a tough loss Saturday night.
Next Step: Fix Secondary
Now that Kubiak is on board, it's time to move to the next item on the list:
One could argue that the Ravens would be preparing for the AFC championship if it weren't for the back end of the defense. That's what Zrebiec believes, saying: "Ultimately [the] secondary sunk them in end."
Flacco threw for four touchdowns, Justin Forsett ran for 129 yards and the offense scored 31 points. That should have been enough, but the defense couldn't stop Tom Brady.
"Even though the Patriots capitalized on trickery, the AFC divisional playoff game was lost on missed tackles and blown coverages by cornerback Rashaan Melvin and defensive back Matt Elam," wrote Hensley. "The Ravens defense failed to hold three leads -- including two 14-point ones -- because the deficiencies of a depleted secondary were exposed by 408 yards passing." "
Zrebiec pointed out that there isn't a single person who doesn't have a question mark going forward:
Jimmy Smith has health concerns (susceptible to injuries and recovering from a lisfranc injury), Lardarius Webb has health concerns (susceptible to injuries, reported to make $12 million in 2015), Will Hill is a restricted free agent and has a history of off-field troubles, Darian Stewart is an unrestricted free agent and Matt Elam hasn't played up to expectations.
"How can they salvage Elam?" asked Zrebiec. He added that Melvin is a "nice story" but gave up 15 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns against New England and is "not the answer yet."
The problems weren't limited to the Patriots. Many pundits actually praise the Ravens for finding a way to go as far as they did after having seven starting corners this season and four starting safeties due to injuries or inefficiencies. And there's plenty of hope for a quick turnaround in 2015.
"The Ravens have shown they can fix their weaknesses swiftly," wrote Hensley. "It took only a year for the Ravens to go from having one of the worst offensive lines to one of the best. …The Ravens need to improve the secondary through the draft and free agency. Unlike last offseason, when the Ravens didn't address cornerback sufficiently, they need to do all they can so the defense can avoid feeling it let the team down."
Can't Second-Guess Flacco's Decision
Before criticizing Flacco's decision to be aggressive with just under two minutes left and throw deep to Torrey Smith, think about how the Ravens got to the divisional round in the first place. Think about how the Ravens grabbed two 14-point leads.
Flacco threw a game-sealing interception, but …
"The Ravens didn't lose this game because of Flacco," wrote Hensley. "In fact, they were in position to win this game because of Flacco's aggressive mindset. … [I]f you're going to applaud how Flacco went for the jugular on that [earlier converted fourth-and-6], you can't wring your hands over his decision to heave that fourth-quarter pass. That same attack-style mentality is a major reason why Flacco has become one of the best postseason quarterbacks."
Flacco continued building that reputation Saturday night. He threw four touchdown passes, and became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw multiple TDs in eight straight postseason games. His streak of 198 passes without an interception ranks as the second-longest in NFL playoff history.
The internet nearly broke praise for Flacco prior to that final interception:
Revis: Steve Smith 'Erased' In Second Half
Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis was very complimentary and respectful of Steve Smith Sr. before Saturday night's game, but after the game was another story.
Smith scored an impressive bobbling touchdown in the first quarter, but slowed after that to finish three catches for 44 yards. Smith also drew two penalties from the shutdown corner (pass interference and holding).
Revis took the credit for Smith's quiet second half with some not-so-humble words:
"He caught a touchdown earlier in the game and after that he got erased," Revis said.
Or, maybe Revis got away with a questionable play or two. At least one that the cameras caught, but the refs didn't: