Offseason Changes Are Needed, But Not At Head Coach
There's no such thing as a dumb question, but some need to be knocked down with swift force.
After missing the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and notching a 31-32 regular-season record since the Super Bowl, several analysts say it's fair to question the future of Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.
It's also fair to clearly and emphatically say that moving forward without Harbaugh would be a massive blunder.
"[F]iring Harbaugh would be the kind of mistake that could set the Ravens back for years," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown.
"[C]hanges need to be made. Just not at head coach," added ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The Ravens' best decision this offseason would be to keep John Harbaugh. … Let's not forget that Harbaugh is still considered a top-10 coach in this league."
For those questioning Harbaugh's future in Baltimore, Brown has a few questions of his own that he says detractors should have to answer (the first one being my personal favorite):
1) If Harbaugh isn't the head coach, who are the realistic candidates that would make the Ravens better, not worse?
2) When the Ravens were narrowly eliminated from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which team do you think had more impact playmakers?
3) During the Christmas battle that was bitterly fought to the end, did it look like players had tuned out their head coach?
"If Harbaugh were fired, I think he'd get a phone call from another NFL team before he got to his car in the parking lot," wrote Brown. "Coaches with six playoff appearances in nine years, who have a Super Bowl ring and who have a 10-5 career playoff record don't grow on trees.
"There are not 32 NFL head coaches that you can win big with. You can win big with Harbaugh. He has already proven that. When was the last time the Ravens played a playoff game or an elimination game like Sunday's and got their doors blown off? It doesn't happen. Every team that faces the Ravens knows what they're in for – a 60-minute dogfight."
Ultimately, Owner Steve Bisciotti will make the decision. Until he meets with media for the annual "State of the Ravens" press conference, which is usually held a week or two after the season finale, chatter will continue about his head coach.
But if you want insight into what he might do, Hensley points out Bisciotti has said in the past that he wants to model the Ravens organization after the Steelers.
The Rooney family is known for its patience, and ownership stuck by Head Coach Mike Tomlin despite missing the playoffs in three of five years after winning the Super Bowl. Tomlin turned things around, and the Steelers have punched a postseason ticket for three straight years.
Harbaugh is certainly capable of a similar turnaround, but he needs some help from the front office, says Hensley (we'll get to that more below).
"If how the Ravens played at Pittsburgh is any indication, [Bisciotti] had to be pleased with what he saw. Baltimore showed toughness and fight in nearly upsetting the Steelers on Sunday," wrote Hensley. "The Ravens aren't unraveling like the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams. As Harbaugh put it after the narrow loss to the Steelers, that showed the Ravens 'are very close to being a very good football team.'"
Some believed his contract expired after next season, but Hensley reported Tuesday that Harbaugh had already previously signed an extension that will keep him in Baltimore beyond next season. When that extension was signed is unclear, as it was not made public when it happened.
Harbaugh will be the first to say improvement is needed, including from himself. He's not the type of guy to rest upon his past success, which includes notching the fourth-most wins in the NFL (95 including the playoffs) since he became the Ravens head coach in 2008. He owns the fifth-best winning percentage (.601) among active NFL head coaches.
As Brown said, Harbaugh's track record "doesn't give him a lifetime pass," but he's deserving of keeping his post in 2017.
"Firing a head coach with one losing season in nine years? That's a change the Ravens really don't need to make," Brown wrote.
"The Ravens should be battling the Steelers for the AFC North title once again next season if they keep Harbaugh and make changes elsewhere," added Hensley.
Four Offseason Changes That ARE Needed
OK, so if a change at head coach is not needed, what does need to happen in order for Baltimore to become a playoff team again?
"Harbaugh needs help from his front office," wrote Hensley.
*More pass rushers that can get after the quarterback … *Brown: "Even if linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil return next season, and Suggs says he plans to come back, asking their bodies to hold up as the lead pass rushers for 16 games is likely asking too much."
*Better success in the draft, especially with higher picks … *Hensley: "The Ravens whiffed on the first two picks in the 2013 draft (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown), haven't gotten the expected production out of the first two picks in the 2015 draft (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams) and didn't get immediate impact from the second- and third-round picks from this year's draft (linebacker Kamalei Correa and injured defensive end Bronson Kaufusi)."
More depth at cornerback …
Brown: "Tavon Young was a nice 2016 draft pick there, but whenever top corner Jimmy Smith was injured, the Ravens still looked too vulnerable in the secondary, and Smith continued to have trouble staying healthy."
More offensive playmakers and a system that maximizes their talent …
Brown: "Their offense has not played at a championship level since Gary Kubiak left as coordinator two years ago. Joe Flacco has not played at the same level at quarterback since Kubiak left. Elite or not, Flacco isn't going anywhere. So next year's offensive coordinator, whoever it is, needs to have a Kubiak-like influence on Flacco. Especially with Steve Smith Sr. expected to retire, the Ravens need wide receiver Breshad Perriman to play like a first-round pick next season, and an offense that can be more quick-strike and less methodical."
Buffalo Bills Fire Rex Ryan, Bench Tyrod Taylor
With one week still to play this season, the Buffalo Bills have fired twin brothers Head Coach Rex Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, and will bench quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Rex Ryan and Taylor are both former Ravens.
Despite signing a five-year contract for $90 million before the 2016 season, benching Taylor makes his future in Buffalo uncertain. The Bills can reportedly opt out of the deal after this season.
Ryan finished with a 15-16 record after two seasons in Buffalo and is 61-66 overall as a six-year head coach.
And before you ask, no, Ryan is not likely to return to Baltimore, where he was a fan- and player-favorite as a defensive assistant for 10 years. Players have raved this season about Dean Pees, who led the defense to a top-5 ranking all year.
"Many presume Ryan will head to TV," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio. "Two years ago, ESPN senior [producer] Seth Markman lauded Ryan as a potential superstar.
"If Rex Ryan ultimately covets being a head coach, perhaps he'll land at the college level, [where] he spent 10 of his formative coaching years. However it plays out, it's unlikely that the 54-year-old Ryan will simply fade away. He may never again be an NFL head coach, but he could be very successful in another capacity. Much of it depends on what he wants to do and what's available to him."
Could Juszczyk Help Fullback Position Make A Comeback?
Plenty of people around the league noticed fullback Kyle Juszczyk Sunday, when he bulldozed Steelers safety Mike Mitchell for the go-ahead touchdown with 78 seconds remaining in the game.
Had the defense held the Steelers on the next drive, Juszczyk would have been lauded as a hero. That didn't happen, but his play still garnered attention.
In a pass-happy league, the fullback position is dying, but Juszczyk hopes it can make a comeback.
"Juszczyk plays a position that is slowly being phased out in the NFL," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee. "As of Tuesday, only 17 of the 32 teams in the league had a fullback on their active 53-man rosters, as many offenses tend to go with '11 personnel,' an alignment with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. Juszczyk has played 440 snaps, while the next closest fullback, the New England Patriots' James Develin, has played 333 snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus."
Said Juszczyk: "Hopefully, this is just a trend. But even with the other teams that don't [have fullbacks], they still use guys in that position. They use tight ends, sometimes defensive linemen or offensive linemen. But I still think there's a need for that role, and maybe that player isn't labeled a fullback, but there's still a need for that player. So hopefully in the near future, the fullback will make its way back into the NFL."