It seems like a valid question.
Why is Baltimore back in the playoffs and how did they do it so quickly?
Last season this franchise had a host of issues and uncertainty around it. A new head coach, a hole at quarterback, questions about the veterans and the list goes on. So how did this turnaround happen? Come, let me show you.
-When Brian Billick was let go with years still left on his contract I was a bit skeptical as to what was going on with this franchise. I particularly didn’t understand they way in which he was let go as owner Steve Bischotti pulled a flip-flop after endorsing Billick towards the end of the season. Jason Garrett may be now regretting his decision to turn down Baltimore’s head coaching offer to stay and keep an offense that resembles the maturity of a middle school classroom together. Garrett’s bad move allowed Baltimore to hire John Harbaugh instead. Harbaugh has provided energy and focus to a team that has needed it. Vets grumbled about harder practices and greater accountability but winning is the cure all and aside from a few missteps it’s clear this is a more disciplined team.
Cam Cameron is the next hire that has made all the difference. During his first press conference he talked about modifying the playbook to fit the roster. That’s all I needed to hear. One of Coach Billick’s faults was a basic scheme on offense, little motion, straight ahead football. Cameron has been almost mad scientist like using gimmick plays, unbalanced lines and weird packages. But for all that creativity, there is one constant – running the football. The identity is clear.
Rex Ryan interviewed for several head jobs as well and didn’t get any of them. Again I wasn’t thrilled that he was being retained as the DC, since so many players liked him. I wondered if Bischotti was concerned about discipline why would you keep any of the coaches from the last regime? But, it’s been proven out that Ryan has used his players well to a second overall ranking in the NFL.
Strong 2008 Draft
-Anyone surprised that the Wizard of Oz, Mr. Newsome drafted well yet again? Of course Joe Flacco and Ray Rice provided big dividends. But it’s those latter round picks where Newsome really shines. Tavares Gooden is expected to come off IR and contribute,Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura played well on special teams, Oniel Cousins and David Hale could help in the offensive line. The only gray spot is the dreaded receiver position, admittedly a position that Ozzie ironically hasn’t really found a break out player. Marcus Smith is the current slot receiver but hasn’t registered a catch.
Free Agent Pickups
-The Ravens truly addressed the depth issue and how important has that been when you consider Baltimore lost Steve McNair, Jonathan Ogden, Kelly Gregg, Chris McAlister, Marshall Yanda, Dawan Landry, and Kyle Boller either to retirement or injury. Fabian Washington and Jim Leonhard have helped immensely in the secondary with Leonhard providing stability in the return game as well. Lorenzo Neal is still trucking linebackers and it’s allowed a true big beef package with McClain behind him. Willie Anderson has brought a vet presence to a young, athletic line too.
Problems are Handled in House
-Again a reflection on the new staff. Harbaugh has chosen not to throw players under the media bus but he has de-activated players that have displeased him or even benched them. Actions always speak louder than words and his approach makes a lot of sense.
Big Play Defense
-It’s always the name of the game in Baltimore but the team is back to getting turnovers and making teams pay for it. Ray Lewis was back to pro bowl form. Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs provided pressure. Jaret Johnson had a quiet and productive season. Bart Scott was improved and the secondary played much better than expected. Ed Reed seems to be getting stronger – Uh oh.
-Not bad for a team that has no true deep threat. Todd Heap has finally been more involved. The gimmick plays have been a blast to watch and keep everyone on the edge of their seat. Le’Ron McClain has probably been my personal favorite to watch come to the forefront. Ah, and that Flacco kid is going to be really good in another year or two.
In the end even if Baltimore gets knocked out in round one you have to like the direction that things are headed in and it’s best to enjoy it.
Who knows what next year will bring?