John Harbaugh Has a Strong Argument for Coach of the Year Award
We are just days away from the NFL's infamous "Black Monday," when coaches around the league get the dreaded pink slip. In some cases, that could happen as soon as Sunday.
Sports Illustrated ran a comprehensive review of 15 teams that may consider moving on from their current head coach. That's almost half the league, folks, and many of them include familiar faces.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of coaches who are worthy of consideration for the Coach of the Year award.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is one of them, says Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.
"A litany of injuries and chronic offensive struggles made it hard to pile up wins early," Florio wrote. "But [the Ravens] kept chugging and overachieving and could end up with a playoff berth — to the dismay of teams like New England and Pittsburgh."
Florio characterized this year's Coach of the Year award as a multi-horse race, and named several other candidates that are also deserving of consideration. The names include the L.A. Rams' Sean McVay, Minnesota Vikings' Mike Zimmer, Jacksonville Jaguars' Doug Marrone, Philadelphia Eagles' Doug Pederson and New England Patriots' Bill Belichick.
But Harbaugh has a strong argument of his own.
Think back to how gloomy things looked at the start of the season, and then again during the bye week at midseason.
The Ravens were so concerned with the back injury to franchise quarterback Joe Flacco that they were looking at other options, including former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Flacco played through it, but didn't start to look like himself until about Week 11.
Injuries decimated the roster before the season even began, and the Ravens have had to navigate through them all year. The website Man-Games Lost says the Ravens are the most injured team through Week 15 with 213 games missed by injured players.
In the website's graph below, the bottom left corner means fewer injuries and fewer wins. The top right corner means more injuries and more wins. The bubble size represents the quality of injured players.
The Ravens are in the top right, meaning they've won a lot despite a rash of injuries. Their bubble size isn't the largest, but it's significant, demonstrating they've lost quality players, including All-Pro Marshal Yanda and shutdown corner Jimmy Smith.
At the bye week, the Ravens were below .500 and many people had written them off.
"The Baltimore Ravens sat at 3-4 following back-to-back losses to the downtrodden Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings," wrote NFL.com's Kevin Patra. "The football authority collectively decided John Harbaugh's team would be an afterthought. Joe Flacco's offense dead in the water. The offensive line couldn't block a fake Twitter account. The receivers couldn't get open. And the special teams were giving up huge returns.
"Most wrote the Ravens off early. They survived and advanced. [One more win] and they'll make the tournament. We've seen Joe Flacco get hot in January before."
The turnaround is really quite astounding. Barely alive at midseason, the team ripped off five wins over the next six games, the lone loss coming to the 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers in the last minute of the game. Now Baltimore controls its playoff destiny.
Defensive leader Terrell Suggs just yesterday attributed a big part of the credit to his head coach. Suggs said Harbaugh did a good job of not letting the players get a "case of the [bleep]-its" when they were 4-5 at the bye.
"I do appreciate the character of our team and the resilience of our team and the mental toughness and the focus and the ability to get right at the task at hand and push aside the stuff that is not important and get right at what is important and deal with adversity when it happens, with the different injuries," Harbaugh said last week. "Every team deals with it to one degree or another. We dealt with it quite a bit early and then middle of season. Our guys handled it, and they kept fighting through it.
"The reports of our demise, I guess, were greatly exaggerated."
Should Ravens Re-Sign Ryan Jensen During Offseason? Long-Term Effects of Jaylen Hill Injury
Ryan Jensen is one reason why the Ravens have been able to stabilize their play along the offensive line after a rash of injuries and the sudden retirement of John Urschel.
All offseason, it was debated who would become the starting center, and Jensen has filled that role skillfully. He's done so well that the conversation about whether the Ravens should re-sign him this offseason (he's in the final year of his rookie contract) has begun.
"[Jensen's] become a fan and locker room favorite with his toughness, feistiness and consistency on the field," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Jensen has become one of the Ravens' top pending unrestricted free agents, and he plays a position where continuity is important. It's not easy to find a quality center, either in free agency or the draft."
The Ravens' outlook is positive with the expected returns of Yanda and Alex Lewis. They'll also have Ronnie Stanley back at left tackle and Austin Howard on the right side. It's unclear what his role will be, but the Ravens still have Matt Skura under contract. The undrafted free agent started on the practice squad this year, and has only allowed one quarterback hit all year while filling in at right guard, per Pro Football Focus.
That leaves just the center position without an obvious replacement.
"The Ravens already have a host of offensive needs this offseason," wrote Zrebiec. "Re-signing Jensen would keep them from adding a starting center to that list."
On another note, Zrebiec looked at the long-term effects the ACL and PCL tears will have on undrafted rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill and the position at large.
Hill was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after suffering the injury Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. This year, it may not have a major impact on a Ravens' postseason run, but it could going forward.
"It's the type of injury that team officials hate, as it can significantly stall the development of a talented young player while complicating the decision-making process at cornerback in the offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "Hill, who made the team on the strength of a strong preseason and training camp, is now robbed of a valuable offseason to get bigger and stronger.
"As for the Ravens, they're already unsure about whether top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles tendon in early December, will be ready for the start of next year. Slot cornerback Tavon Young will be coming off a significant knee injury, and now Hill will be as well. The Ravens feel very good about their cornerback depth, but recent events should prevent them from ignoring the position this offseason."
Ravens Crack Top 10 in National Power Rankings
It only took until the final week of the season, but the Ravens finally cracked the top 10 in several national power rankings. It's hard to push them much further down when they're on the cusp of being one of 12 NFL teams to make the playoffs.
CBS Sports: No. 9 (up two)
"If they win this week against the Bengals, they are in the playoffs. The defense will be what will make them dangerous in the postseason."
ESPN: No. 10 (up two spots)
"Baltimore hovered around .500 for a bit, but Joe Flacco and the offense have finally started holding up their end of the bargain. Over the past four weeks, Flacco has thrown seven touchdowns to one interception after throwing nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in the first 11 games of the season."
Bleacher Report: No. 10 (up one)
"It wasn't a pretty win for the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night. I still question whether the offense will be able to consistently move the ball in the playoffs if they get in. The Ravens defense is sound. However, I do wonder if there are enough big-time playmakers on that side of the ball to carry Baltimore to a Super Bowl. That's the Ravens' goal, and they're going to want to ride their defense to another title game. It's going to take timely explosive plays on offense and on defense to get Baltimore another Lombardi Trophy. We haven't seen a ton of them this season. Still, the Ravens are a big and physical team that won't be pushed around come January. If those explosive plays do come and Joe Flacco has another run like he had in the 2012-13 playoffs, the Ravens could be back in the Super Bowl."
NFL.com: No. 10 (up two)
"Very quietly – oh so quietly, in fact, so quietly that we should probably whisper it before we get let down – Joe. Flacco. Is. Playing. Good. Football. Right. Now. The people of football have complained about Baltimore's quarterback for the last three years. Ever since he enjoyed another stellar postseason following the 2014 season, it seems as though just a cup of Joe was all anyone could tolerate, hoping the defense would win as many games for the Ravens as their QB. But here are Flacco's passer ratings over his last four games: 105.0, 88.9, 90.2 and 109.2."
Sporting News: No. 11 (no movement)
"Beat the Bengals and the Ravens are in."
Yahoo! Sports: No. 11 (up one)* *"The Ravens aren't going to produce a playoff classic, but they're the type of team that will be a tough out in the playoffs. It seems inevitable they play at Kansas City on wild-card weekend (probably on Sunday, since that early Saturday game seems destined yet again to be the AFC South showcase, this time with the Jaguars), and it's far from an easy out for the Chiefs."