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I feel bad for the Baltimore Ravens defense. Year after year, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, etc. put in amazing performances, but they are consistently sabotaged by the Ravens mediocre offense. At least they won in 2000, otherwise this would have reached almost tragic proportions.

There are lots of fingers to point in the Ravens’ offensive failure in the 4th quarter yesterday. How does Lee Evans drop that touchdown? The entire field goal attempt was a disaster–bad snap, holder couldn’t get the ball set straight, kicker misses by a mile. And then there’s Joe Flacco.

Flacco didn’t play a terrible game, though that interception wasn’t great. But he hardly played great either. As Scott mentioned yesterday, Flacco is no Tim Tebow, but he’s also not very good. Baltimore needs to be serious about upgrading the quarterback position to compete for a Super Bowl, but they are so close as it is and starting over at that key position would be such a process that I understand why they wouldn’t do it. And they won’t.

And that led me to thinking–when was the last time a team has been close to an elite team for so long, over a decade in the Ravens’ case, while struggling to establish anything decent at the quarterback position. Flacco’s obviously much better than Kyle Boller, but he isn’t really any better than Trent Dilfer and it’s not like Dilfer was a world-beater. The Ravens have survived with the same strategy for a long time–amazing defense and try to put together enough pieces on offense. And it works just well enough to leave them short of the Super Bowl.

Is there another example of this scenario in NFL history?

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  • Robert Farley

    Could you compare maybe with mid-1980s Marino-led Dolphins offense?

    • Downpuppy

      The Purple People Eaters losing 4 SBs is the all time standard.

      • proverbialleadballoon

        the buffalo bills will see your four super bowl losses, and raise you ‘in a row’.

        the late 80’s bears (86-91) come to mind to answer loomis’ question. only half of the years, but the same story as the ravens.

      • patrick II

        I can’t stand Buddy Ryan, but he was the defensive line coach of the purple people eaters. He was also the defensive coach of the Namath superbowl jets, the defensive coordinator of the great 85 bears defense and built a great defense in Philadelphia. The S.O.B. knew defense. His sons aren’t quite there.

        • The Ryan-era Eagles were outstanding on defense, though the death of Jerome Brown really hurt the team.

    • In thinking that a great offensive unit is sabotaged by bad defense, the comparison is interesting.

  • Ronnie P

    “How does Lee Evans drop that touchdown?”

    I think some guy stripped it from him.

    The Ravens are getting a bit old at a couple of spots (Lewis, Reed). So they have to think about that too.

    • Downpuppy

      That’s 3 spots, since according to Erik there are 2 Ray Lewises (which explains a lot).

      • Ronnie P

        There’s Ray Lewis the inside linebacker, and Ray Lewis the inspirer, who’s yelling makes his teammates play better. He was even capable of preventing Brett Favre from having fun.

    • Exactly. It looked like a strip rather than a drop to me. It’s actually arguable he completed the catch, but it wasn’t reviewed.

      • Furious Jorge

        I thought he did catch it, and I was very surprised there wasn’t a review.

        • proverbialleadballoon

          also surprised there was no review, but to me, it looked like he didn’t _quite_ have his second foot down before the corner poked the ball out.

          • mark f

            On a catch you have to demonstrate possession by making a “football move,” e.g. turning with it, tucking it, holding it for a second, etc. It’s not quite an instantaneous TD like sticking the ball out over the plane on a run.

            • proverbialleadballoon

              it was a great play by the corner who saved the game just as the ravens were going to win it. in a similar sense, williams botching two punts lost the game for the niners. muffed punts would be a cool band name.

              • mark f

                Absolutely. This Pats fan’s heart dropped as soon as the ball reached Evans. Sterling Moore for MVP!

            • You don’t have to make a “football move”, but you do have to retain possesion until both feet have touched the ground.

              Davis didn’t do this because some rude fellow on the Patriots karate chopped it out of his hand.

              http://i10.photobucket.com/albums/a126/chuchundra/evans-incomplete.jpg

              • Joseph Slater

                As all us Detroit Lions fans remember from the Bears-Lions in 2010 and what I still think was a catch by Calvin Johnson, it’s a “process.”

              • Tom M

                Best play of the game immediately followed by the second best play by the same guy.

  • Ronnie P

    Also, what about the Steelers between Bradshaw and Ben? Not quite the same, but the mid-90s teams may have only needed a QB to win.

    • BKP

      Absolutely. That team made the playoffs consistently with a combination of Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox.

      • Anonymous

        Do not forget Mike Tomzak lead the Steelers to

    • Interesting. A solid point.

  • BKP

    Tampa Bay and Chicago maybe haven’t had teh sustained success that Baltimore has had, but they are both teams that have spent the last decade+ dying for a decent QB.

    • patrick II

      The Bears have been searching for a quarterback for sixty years. They have had some good years, but never any sustained excellence. Cutler is now breaking some passing records held by Sid Luckman, quarterback from 1939 to 1948. The only other Bear quarterback with more than four straight years of quarterback is Ed Brown, from 1955 to 1960. McMahon had one healthy year (1985) in which they went to the Superbowl. With a health quarterback and a coach who could manage head cases instead of exacerbate them, that is a team that could have won several superbowls.

      • proverbialleadballoon

        eleven-year-old proverbialleadballoon will never forgive charles martin (rip) for his cheap shot on mcmahon in ’86, separating his shoulder, and ending the bears’ chances that season. mcmahon wasn’t a top-level qb, but he was worlds better than fuller, flutie, tomzak, and before he became captain comeback with the colts, jim harbaugh. if i remember right, walter payton started a couple of games at qb after mcmahon was hurt, that’s how big the drop-off was between starter and backup.

        • He started one series at QB – 15th game of 1984 at home against GB. McMahon went down earlier due to a lacerated kidney against Oakland (but the Bears D took out two Raiders QBs as compensation) and Fuller went out the game before against SD with a separated shoulder. Ditka had cut Avellini early in the year and went with the unknown Rusty Lisch as his 3rd string QB. Really bad move.

          Lisch was without any doubt the most painful QB to watch of all time. He would cock his arm back to pass and then hold it in the Statue of Liberty position for sometimes over 5 seconds. What points the Bears got with Lisch were due entirely to their solid running game.

          Ditka let Payton QB the last series of the first half, realizing that Lisch couldn’t possibly run a two minute drill, and Payton got several first downs, mostly on his runs, until he threw a bomb for an interception.

          For week 16 against Detroit they started Greg Landry, who came out of retirement and won. That extra game for Landry dramatically increased his NFL pension from Detroit.

          The trivia question – name the 4 1st round draft picks who played QB for the Bears in 1984. McMahon, Fuller, Payton, and Landry.

          Tomczak would join the Bears as an undrafted rookie in 1985. Flutie would join the Bears in 1986 after the USFL disbanded following the lost lawsuit.

      • I’m always surprised that Bears fans overlook Erik Kramer. He was at least as good as McMahon – better arm actually, and generated a lot of offense. Unfortunately for him he was with the Bears during the Wannstadt era – a dark period when even the defense wasn’t very good.

      • Antonio Conselheiro

        Uncle Milton Romney was a Bears QB 1925-1929.

  • Based on his recent QB ratings over the past four years, Imma say you won’t have him to kick around much longer. He dropped six points from 2010 to 2011 alone, and if not for the defense, the Ravens don’t even sniff the playoffs.

    Here’s the thing: when you play so many tight games, the ones you win become based on “clutch plays” Flacco is living off this. The one thing I will give him is he has a pretty strong arm, and can get balls in places where others shouldn’t even try throwing (you listening, Mark Sanchez?)

    • “if not for the defense, the Ravens don’t even sniff the playoffs.”

      Well, without the offense picking up the defense rather explicitly at Pittsburgh and at home against Cincinnati, the Ravens are the 6th seed instead of the 2nd. And by the same token, the defense tried awfully hard to give away the last game of the year in Cincinnati as well before Rice hit his second big run of the day.

      The only games I can think of where you could clearly say the defense picked up the offense was the Sunday night game against the Jets (which is a little bit debatable in itself), and last week’s divisional round game against the Texans, which seems to be about the only game 90% of the people with such well formed opinions of how awesome the Ravens defense remains watched this year.

      • Ronnie P

        Overall stats show the Ravens allowing 3.5 yds per carry, an opposing QB rating below 70, and registering 48 sacks.

        You guys are spoiled.

        • I’m not particularly sure what that proves, but okay. I should certainly hope they were good against the run, given the abundance of defensive tackles and inside linebackers on the roster, the QB rating probably doesn’t say much, since the quarterbacks they faced this year included the NFC West (and again, they got beat by Tavaris Jackson), Mark Sanchez, Dan Orlovsky, Matt Hasselback (who, again, beat them up pretty bad), Blaine Gabbard, Colt McCoy, and Seneca Wallace. Unless I’m forgetting something, they had exactly one good game against an obviously good QB, week one of the season at home against the Steelers.

          As for the sacks, the overall number is misleading as a) they were very streaky, getting them in bunches when they came but getting no pressure in several other games. Off hand, I think 17 of those 48 sacks came just against San Francisco, Pittsburgh in week one, and Indianapolis (9 of them were against the 49ers) b) They had a pretty severe home/road split as well.

          • i don’t follow the ravens particularly, brien, so all you say may well be true, but that doesn’t mean: a.) you aren’t spoiled (many of us would be thrilled to have a defense playing as well as your declining defense does; and b.) they played a stud qb yesterday, and if he’d only played as well as joe flacco, the pats would have won easily.

            which is to say, they were fully capable of meeting the challenge of tom brady.

          • Ronnie P

            Again, I think you’re spoiled. The 9 sakcs against SF counted, didn’t they? Maybe won the game (they also shut down Gore).

            *Everyone* has bad weeks on defense nowadays. It isn’t 1974. Ravens were beat by Tavaris Jackson. Tom Brady threw 4 INTs vs. the Bills.

            • Of course they counted. Who said they didn’t? By the same token, not forcing San Diego to turn the ball over to them even once counted too, didn’t it?

              My point wasn’t to say that they’re awful or that the good games didn’t count, but to merely note that a bottom line look at the broad stats aren’t necessarily indicative of the true underlying story. The Ravens were great at getting after the QB in some games (especially at home), but at other times were downright putrid at it. And not just in terms of not sacking the QB, but in terms of not even putting any real pressure on him. That should be somewhat intuitive, given that they don’t have a single consistent pass rusher on the roster other than Suggs (Kruger might count, but he doesn’t get enough playing time to be a big factor. Got to keep those second string defensive tackles in the game, doncha know).

              • mpowell

                This is ridiculous. There is no such thing as a ‘consistent’ pass rusher in the NFL. Everybody has days when the OL is able to stop them. I’m not sure you can come up with a stat that doesn’t show the Ravens have an elite defense. It’s in the top 5 of the league. It’s basically impossible with the new league rules to not have a bad game on defense a few times during the season. Expecting otherwise is just unrealistic.

    • firefall

      you listening, Mark Sanchez?

      no. no he isn’t.

  • history tells us that the minimum competency at qb to win a super bowl is along the lines of doug williams, jeff hostetler, trent dilfer, or brad johnson, and i don’t really think that joe flacco is any less capable than those 4.

    there are, after all, probably not more than 10 outstanding quarterbacks at any given time and in a salary cap-constrained league, it’s hard to have the studs the ravens do on defense and still be able to pay up for one of the very best qbs in the game, even if he’s available, which, of course, is the heart of the problem: teams with one of those top qbs tend to keep them, so then you’re down to the crapshoot of the draft.

    • Ronnie P

      The question is whether the last few years have changed things regarding QB play. Maybe you need a stud now.

      You’re right that they won’t steal someone else’s franchise QB. The draft appears to be more favorable nowadays, but who knows?, and will they spend a #1 pick (even that would be late 1st round)?

      • ronnie p, good point about the continuing emphasis on the passing game thanks to rules tweaks.

        on the other hand, it only took a couple of plays going differently yesterday for the super bowl winner to either be flacco or smith, so then again, maybe your point isn’t decisive!

        as smith showed yesterday, one way around the lack of stud qb is to have a stud at tight end!

        • “as smith showed yesterday, one way around the lack of stud qb is to have a stud at tight end!”

          Even though he can’t catch, I know Ed Dickson must be a stud because Ozzie Newsome drafted him over both Gronkowski and Hernandez!

          • the crapshoot of the draft!

            (case in point: tom brady)

            • c u n d gulag

              I wouldn’t be so quick about getting rid of Flacco (or Sanchez either).

              This was only his 3rd year. And after 3 years, there was a lot of noise from the fans to ditch Eli and start again. I know – I was one of them. I was elated when the Giants drafted Rivers, and pissed whey they traded him for Eli. I also wanted Big Ben instead of Eli.

              And look at him now. He’s certainly in the top 5 QB’s in the game, and in the conversation for top 2-3.
              Both Rivers and Big Ben are the next level down.

              • howard

                back when you and i were young, c u n dgulag (ok, i was young and you were younger), the rule of thumb was that it took 5 years to fully evaluate a qb and get his full maturation (sort of like ted williams saying you needed 1000 abs to judge a hitter).

                for lots of reasons, some good (college qbs come in more schooled in the pro game), some bad (high dollar contracts to unproven rookies lead to lots of pressure for roi right away), and some unique (dan marino, tom brady), we’ve gotten away from that sensibility, but i still believe in it.

                • I think everyone is a little different in that respect. The big thing is considering the context and physical abilities. Flacco is limited by not playing in a modern offense and, at least in the last two years, has had an offensive line that really struggles with pass blocking. It’s hard to fully evaluate someone under circumstances like that, but from a physical standpoint you don’t see many things you don’t like. He makes all of the throws you need an NFL quaterback to be able to make (unlike Sanchez, fwiw), he’s mobile enough to make plays here and there with his legs and move around in the pocket, and he doesn’t have too many instances of making throws he clearly shouldn’t have made.

                  If there’s one thing he really needs to work on it’s not fumbling in the pocket so much, but getting better pass blocking from the LT position would go a long way to helping that.

                • c u n d gulag

                  Yeah, you’re right.

                  They usually sat behind a vet for at least a couple of years, and then started. And when they started, they still got a couple of years grace.

                  And then came Marino, and after him, the expectation became you could start right away and be a star. He should have been seen as the exception he was.

                • *AHEM*

                  Joseph William Namath…that is all.

              • I’ve maintained all along that Sanchez’ main problem was an offensive line quick enough to protect him.

                And maybe a receivers corps that didn’t hate each other, but that’s a digression.

                However, the way he tries to jam passes into three-man covers reminds me of sandlot ball, when the QB knew who he was going to throw to, everyone else knew it (because the QB would stare at the kid) and so just to prove a point, he’d fling the ball as hard as he could into the middle of the fray.

                • howard

                  actor212, first off, namath started in the afl, which was a different story then the nfl.

                  that said, he won his super bowl ring in his 4th season. his first two years were just above average in performance, and even at his peak, he was a high interception thrower (not just by modern standards, where interception rates have fallen in half over 30 years, but by his standards).

                  there’s little to distinguish among his top 3-4 seasons other than that his 4th was his best adjusted yards/attempt.

                  but no, he’s not an early example of dan marino: his best year (on normalized stats) wasn’t as good as marino’s rookie season.

                • howard

                  in fact, thinking back for a moment, namath was the pioneer in the “big bucks for unproven talent” category, being signed for, iirc, $400K, which was enormous in those days, and of course they were going to play him right away.

                • First passer to break 4000 yards in a season is nothing to sneeze at, Howard. Admittedly, it was against the AFL but it was also against many of the same teams who would go on to win Super Bowls after the Jets did, so there’s a grain of salt to be had there.

                • howard

                  i’m not sneezing at joe namath: he was a very exciting and fearless qb to watch, and he’s one of the lengthy list of ain’t it a damn shame what injuries did to keep him fulfilling his potential (#1 on the list: greg cook).

                  i’m just saying that he wasn’t the kind of rookie instant success that marino and later brady were, and that nobody in the nfl changed their way of thinking just because namath in the starting lineup as a rookie in the afl had a decent season.

        • Marek

          This. Both games were so close that it is hard to say that it was the QB who made the difference, or that a different QB would have made the difference. Game of inches and all that.

          • All four teams deserved to lose, I agree.

            • Anonymous

              and he’s one of the lengthy list of ain’t it a damn shame what injuries did to keep him fulfilling his potential (#1 on the list: greg cook).

              I’ll go outside of American football and say my #1 is Bill Walton. In his UCLA days and when he won the title with the Trail Blazers, he’s still the greatest all-around basketball player I’ve ever seen.

              A 7-footer (he listed himself as 6-11 because he didn’t want the stigma associated with being 7 feet), he could shoot, pass the ball with the best of them, defend, rebound like a mofo and he could run the floor.

              That damn foot of his……

              [sorry, I’m bummed about another mediocre UCLA basketball season, I wanted to think of happier days]

  • “I feel bad for the Baltimore Ravens defense. Year after year, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, etc. put in amazing performances, but they are consistently sabotaged by the Ravens mediocre offense. At least they won in 2000, otherwise this would have reached almost tragic proportions. ”

    Meh, that was true at one time, but it’s really not anymore. And really, when the team loses it has much more to do with the defense than the offense. The offense didn’t let Matt Hasselback move down the field at will on them in Tennessee. The offense didn’t fumble multiple kickoff returns and then fail to get themselves back on the field with 5+ minutes left in the game and noted world beater Tavaris Jackson facing a 1st and 30. The offense didn’t prevent to stop San Diego’s offense even one time, not allowing points only when San Diego missed a field goal.

    Really, the only game you can put on the offense was the Jacksonville game, but that a) was mostly a matter of Cam Cameron (surprise!) refusing to adjust his game plan to account for the Jags’ press coverage on the outside and b) was atoned for when the offense bailed out the defense weeks later in Pittsburgh (it’s funny how no one around here ever takes the defense to task when they blow the game).

    Really, I think the Ravens’ glaring weaknesses (except for their left tackle and offensive coordinator, anyway), are all on defense. They’re completely lacked a legitimate pass rusher opposite Suggs for years now, they have very little depth at the linebacker position, which exacerbates the problem of needing to get Ray Lewis off of the field in passing situations, and they have a penchant for giving mediocre cornerbacks way too much money to plug their secondary issues.

    “As Scott mentioned yesterday, Flacco is no Tim Tebow, but he’s also not very good. Baltimore needs to be serious about upgrading the quarterback position to compete for a Super Bowl…”

    All due, no one who both watches the Ravens regularly and knows more about football than Dan Dierdorf would seriously believe that. To the extent the Ravens have lingering offensive problems, it’s clearly a matter of poor concepts (from noted wizard of offense Cam Cameron, whose biggest claim to fame is having Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers blossom once they got away from him) and butter fingery receivers.

    • norbizness

      That might be the case, but they were still 3rd in points allowed and yardage allowed, and held Brady to a 57.5 passer rating with no TDs yesterday.

      I think the recipe for success in the playoffs is to dick around in the regular season, be about 6-5 or 5-6 after 11 games, reel off five straight wins, be completely healthy, and continue the run.

      • Downpuppy

        Whatever held Brady down wasn’t the Ravens. He had plenty of time and just missed people. (Except Edelman, when he bounced it off his helmet)

        • sure, it’s possible that one of the most accurate qbs in history was just plain missing people yesterday.

          it’s also possible that the defense was messing his timing or his receiver’s route running.

          without being in the huddle and reviewing game film, it’s hard for any of us to know for sure, but probability suggests that brady didn’t suddenly lose his accuracy.

          • They did a pretty good job in coverage, to be sure, but on the flip side of that they devoted so much effort to the pass that they couldn’t consistently stop the run when they needed to.

            Just speculating, I got the impression that Brady was surprised at the game plan the Ravens came in with yesterday. I imagine he was expecting a lot of Pagano’s zone blitzes and such, and instead the Ravens seemed to rarely bring more than 4 or 5 rushers, and quite often dropped 8. I think Brady was a little bit unsure of what he was seeing downfield.

          • Downpuppy

            OK. Let’s ask Tom how he did:

            “Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us. And I’m going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple weeks.”

            • good god, man, your evidence is what tom brady said after the game? he didn’t have a good game: the question is why and the fact that he said “i sucked” isn’t an answer.

              • Downpuppy

                My evidence was watching him standing there untouched & missing people. You brought up the “being in the huddle” herring.

                As to the question of why he sucked, well, that’s one thing we can be guaranteeeeed to never hear. Up all night with the flu? Touch of malaria? Fight with Giselle? Broken arm?

                Patriots don’t ever make excuses, or give straight answers.

                • howard

                  downpuppy, being “in the huddle” isn’t a red herring: it’s how you know what play was called.

                  it is impossible for the fan in the stands or on the couch to know if a miss occured because a player broke left instead of right or squared off at 12 yards deep instead of 14: you need to know the play and then review the film, which is exactly what i said.

                  no red herrings at all.

                  but you are right about the second part of your comment: coach belichick and team do not give straight answers.

                  so if tom brady says “i sucked,” that’s just tom being a stand up guy and admitting that he didn’t have a good game. it says nothing about whether he sucked because he was having a poor day or he sucked because the defense took the team out of what it wanted to do.

                • My evidence was watching him standing there untouched & missing people.

                  Brady looked bad right out of the gate yesterday. It was clear he was not hitting his spots.

                • howard,

                  it is impossible for the fan in the stands or on the couch to know if a miss occured because a player broke left instead of right or squared off at 12 yards deep instead of 14: you need to know the play and then review the film, which is exactly what i said.

                  No, but if you are sufficiently familiar with how somebody looks when they’re going about their business, you can tell when something is off with them. Brady didn’t look right, like himself, in how he moved and played and threw, right from the first series.

                  The Ravens are a very good defense, but Brady was also having a bad day out there.

    • Adam

      Absolutely. Talking about quarterbacks without discussing their offensive schemes is only one notch above comparing quarterbacks by their “playoff victories.” The Ravens’ problems on offense largely stem not from Flacco, whose young career to this point has been above average (and occasionally well above average), but from Cameron. Cameron won’t adjust, calls plays as if it’s 1992, and designs passing routes that don’t allow his receivers to get as open as they would in other sets. Flacco has his problems, but he isn’t even near the top of the Ravens’ issues.

      • Right. Any objective viewing of the Ravens offensive concepts would conclude that they’re not running a modern offense, especially not in terms of receivers. There are no bunch formations, very few wide receiver screens (which is particularly indefensible, given their personnel), no bunch routes at all, and even very few crossing routes, which Cameron has called “overrated” during his weekly television show.

        As an additional point, after the St. Louis game this year Cameron clearly became infatuated with running 9 routes to Torrey Smith, and would call up at least one or two such plays a game. They hardly ever worked, of course, and routinely disrupted the offense’s rhythm. It was especially bad considering that he insisted on doing them in 2nd and 8+ yard situations, inevitably setting the offense up with 3rd and long situautions rather than giving them a chance to get into a makeable 3rd down.

        • Dilfer has commented several times how difficult it is for a QB to be asked to do nothing but hand off until the team is faced with 3rd and long, and now with no chance to get into any sort of rhythm or to feel out the pass defense he’s got only one chance to make a pass to save the drive.

          I suspect Flacco would do much better with a balanced offensive attack (at least 50% passing on first down) and more use of modern passing formations.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I note here that the evidence strongly supports Erik’s position: the Ravens had the #1 defense overall, #5 if you weight the end of season more strongly, while the offense would rank 12/13 (Flacco alone, of course, would rank lower.)

      • I’m not sure how much that really tells you. Aside from the sample size issue and the fact that the interplay of a football game is a matter of many moving parts, making football extremely difficult to statistically analyze, the Ravens rather obviously faced a superior defensive schedule this season, and from a non-statistical analysis POV, my point still stands. The defense generally bore more blame than the offense in the games the team lost, and on at least two occasions had to be carried and/or bailed out by the offense.

        Which isn’t to say that they’re awful by any means. On the whole, they’re clearly still one of the league’s top defenses, even if they do have some huge holes that need to be filled. But the narrative that they’re a dominant defense constantly being let down by their offense is just not accurate anymore.

      • Given that Ray Rice is pretty great and the line is above average, 12/13 is not what it should be. I don’t watch the Ravens so closely to say much about Cam Cameron’s playcalling so maybe that’s part of it. But Flacco is maybe the 20th-22nd best QB in the league.

        • “Given that Ray Rice is pretty great and the line is above average, 12/13 is not what it should be. I don’t watch the Ravens so closely to say much about Cam Cameron’s playcalling so maybe that’s part of it.”

          Above average is a bit of an amorphous concept though. They have a couple of very good guards, but one of them (Grubbs) was hurt for much of the season’s first half and was replaced by Andre Gurode who was both out of position and downright awful (incidentally, they had two of their four losses in this period, including the one in Jacksonville when Gurode pretty much couldn’t have played worse if he had tried). Michael Oher is, at best, an average to slightly above average right tackle who struggles in pass protection, and Bryant McKinnie is borderline useless in pass protection because he’s so big and out of shape. Seriously, around week 9 they cut seven step drops out of the playbook entirely because McKinnie simply could not pass block long enough to make them possible.

          And while I really like Matt Birk and think he was probably an average center this year, the fact that he was allowed to start all season in front of the superior Gurode is indicative of the real problem with the Ravens going forward: John Harbaugh’s obsession with “loyalty.”

          • Actually, the more I think about it, the more that claiming the Ravens have an “above average offensive line” exposes you for analyzing-by-Madden ratings.

            • scythia

              Yeah, for real. The last phrase any Baltimore fan would use to describe the O-Line is “above-average.” Loomis, I love you, but this is a Skip Bayless-level post. It’s bad enough to watch Flacco get scapegoated after he had a bad game, but after 300 yards, 2 TDs, and a last-minute drive to the opponents’ red zone? C’mon.

              Flacco is a very good, very consistent quarterback hampered, as Brien said, by terrible playcalling and a subpar offensive line. No, he’s not at the level of Rodgers or Manning…..but he doesn’t need to be, because we have an excellent defense and don’t need throw 40 points on the board to win games. We just need our quarterback to avoid committing turnovers and move the ball downfield when necessary…..which is exactly what Flacco does. If there’s anything he’s lack, it’s a short-yardage passing game, but that has much more to do w/ Cameron’s refusal to draw one up than any of Flacco’s supposed shortcomings.

              • It’s not so much that the O-Line isn’t above average in the aggregate, but that the things they struggle with (namely picking up blitzes and having a LT who’s incapable of blocking a competent speed rusher) are rather big problems.

        • Also:

          “But Flacco is maybe the 20th-22nd best QB in the league.”

          Just stop. That’s ridiculous.

          • howard

            it’s also irrelevant.

            there are some qbs in the league who just aren’t at nfl standard in terms of skill set, but that’s a handful.

            far more numerous are the qbs capable of having good games but simply not capable of consistently having good games.

            and then at the very top are brees, rodgers, brady, and peyton, who can be counted on to have a good game pretty consistently.

            but as i noted earlier, super bowls have been won by guys who weren’t consistently top notch but were able to be top notch on occasion, and as you (and i) have both noted, flacco put the ball on the money to win the game and therefore had a 50% chance of being the super bowl winning qb.

            so whether he’s the 12th or the 15th best or the 22nd best is neither here nor there anyhow: he’s not one of the elite who is great most of the time, but he’s good enough to win a super bowl, he’s not, say, carson palmer (who is good enough to be craig morton).

            • Western Dave

              No less than the great Ray Didinger agreed with a caller on sports radio who said that all the Ravens needed to do was quit telling Flacco “Don’t lose the game” and start telling him “go win the game.” Didinger went on to elaborate that Cam Cameron needs to change the offense from one designed not to lose to one designed to win and instill that mindset in his players. Playing not to lose will mean more cases of teh yips.

  • D-boy

    Chicago has tried this but oftentimes their Quarterback play was not even Dilfer level (over 20+ years with McMahon and Grossman as their best performers), so they have not had real sustained success. This is why as a Bears fan I was happy they picked up Cutler because he has the ability to be a franchise quarterback

  • ploeg

    So how about starting with a head coach who will go for the tie on 4th and 6 with three minutes left, two timeouts, and the defense playing as well as it does?

    Or a head coach who calls timeout so that his kicker has enough time to set up for the tying field goal, instead of having to run onto the field with 12 seconds left on the play clock and rush through it?

    The offense got the ball within field goal range twice in the last seven minutes of the game (NE 33 and NE 14). So naturally we need to slag on the offense.

    • Cundiff has been putrid this season from beyond about 48 yards, so I can’t fault Harbaugh for not kicking the field goal there (the lack of the timeout is inexcusable though, and if I didn’t already hate him it would probably be the last straw for Harbaugh with me).

      A playcaller who wouldn’t have called for a draw out of the shotgun on the preceding 3rd and 3 would have been nice though.

      • mark f

        Cundiff has been putrid this season from beyond about 48 yards, so I can’t fault Harbaugh for not kicking the field goal there

        And Simms and Nantz noted that he wasn’t even hitting from that distance in pre-game, either. Given that, it would’ve been dumb to do anything but go for the first down there.

  • patrick II

    They didn’t “pick up” Cutler. Cutler was a gift — someone who fell in their laps when he insisted on being traded to the Bears from Denver. If it wasn’t for that, the Bears would be continuing their over half century quarterback cluelessness with Kyle Orton at quarterback.
    Thank you Josh McDaniels.

    • I don’t recall him insisting on being traded to the Bears. Of course, there were a lot of contradictory stuff said by all sides at the time the trade occurred, but I’ve never heard it claimed Cutler picked his team.

      The story at the time was that there were several bidders in the Cutler auction, with two willing to pay way too much – Snyder in Washington and Angelo in Chicago. The offered the same deal – same draft choices, plus their own starting QB. McDaniels watched tapes of Orton and Campbell (who was at Washington) and chose Orton.

      Now, when you are willing to pay as much as Dan Snyder for a “name” talent you should stop yourself and realize you are probably making a major mistake. Cutler wasn’t bad, but was he great? I remember Bears fans at the time super excited because Cutler had made the pro bowl that year. Sorry, but all of Shanahan’s starters after Elway made the pro bowl once – Griese, Plummer and Cutler. Not exactly the same neighborhood as Unitas, Staubach, and Montana.

      Worse, Angelo actually seemed to believe that by replacing Orton with Cutler he’d solve all the team’s offensive problems. Same stupid OC, same low talent offense. At the time I predicted that in the first year Cutler would end up with Orton-like numbers and Orton would actually put up the better numbers of the two of them – and that happened.

      • mpowell

        Good god, someone thinks that Chicago overpaid for Cutler? That’s hilarious.

  • JMG

    Mr. Loomis, did you watch the game. Flacco turned in an excellent performance, better than that of his opposite number Tom Brady. Evans holds the ball, Ravens win. Ravens kicker doesn’t choke, Ravens tie. There seem to be an increasing number of Internet football commenters who believe that if a quarterback doesn’t turn in a Brees-level passing performance, he was adequate at best. Not so.

    • Evans secures the football, Flacco has 300+ yards, 3 touchdowns, only one interception, and a last minute comeback drive on the road in the AFCCG, throwing a perfect pass to cap it off and outplaying Tom Brady himself along the way. But because someone else couldn’t make a play, he’s subpar and will clearly always hold his team back.

      I don’t know what it is about football that makes logic fail so spectacularly in people.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Ahem… logic. A quaterback can’t outplay another quarterback, he can only outplay another quarterback’s team’s defensive unit.

        • Do you feel clever now?

          • Scott Lemieux

            Well, there’s no way around the fact that you’re using a double standard. Good defensive performances against bad QBs are (reasonably enough) to be discounted, but then don’t we have to discount Flacco’s stats against a terrible pass defense? Note against a good defense the previous week he was awful.

            • I think you’re missing my point, which is mostly just to say that you’re overstating the importance of statistics that, by nature, have A LOT of variable noise built into them.

              And as to this, I was mostly just talking about how stupid the narratives are.

            • scythia

              Pretty much any quarterback is awful when his pass protection is non-existent. Houston’s D dominated the line of scrimmage in that game. Flacco was under pressure immediately and had to either get rid of the ball before his receivers were open or take the sacks. He wasn’t missing open receivers or making costly turnovers.

      • Um….I said in the post there were lots of reasons why the Ravens didn’t win and that Flacco had an OK game minus that pick. I mean, I know it’s a lot to read the post and all….

        The point was to take the time to think about the disparity between the Ravens defense and offense in the context of football history.

        • You’re about 3 years too late for that post. The gap hasn’t been particularly wide there since Ryan left for New York, at least.

          • You’re right that the gap has not been as wide as it was in the first decade of the century, but it’s still one of the largest in the league.

            • scythia

              “You’re right that the gap [between defense and offense] has not been as wide as it was in the first decade of the century, but it’s still one of the largest in the league.”

              BRO, YOU ROOT FOR NEW ENGLAND. What’s the gap between their offense and defensive rankings?

              • This is a thread about teams whose defenses are better than their offenses.

                Thx.

            • That’s a relevant term (what are we defining as one of the largest? Top 5? 10? 16?) that I’m not sure makes any real difference. The defense is better than the offense compared to the rest of the league but a) the defense is no longer the dominant force it once was and b) the offense is generally competent enough to hold their own and occasionally bail out a defense that can really struggle against the pass.

              • scythia

                I thought our 2011 pass D was the best it’s been in years.

                • Case in point.

                • scythia

                  ???

                • The pass defense this year was better than it was during the Mattison years, but that isn’t the same thing as saying it was particularly good. Though, to be fair, they got better as the season went on, and especially so once Jimmy Smith became more integrated into the defense on the outside.

  • TN

    The Rams were contenders pretty much continuously from 1973 to 1989, but only had one losing Super Bowl to show for it, and that came in a year when they sneaked into the playoffs at 9-7. They always had a stout defense and a strong running game, but their quarterbacks were: James Harris, an aging Joe Namath, Pat Haden, Vince Ferragamo, Jeff Kemp, Dieter Brock, and Jim Everett. They were trying to beat out Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach and Joe Montana with those guys.

    • Downpuppy

      PFR figured either that Rams line or Minnesota from the same period was the best DL ever –

      • Downpuppy

        It ate my linky

    • Steve in Clearwater

      John Hadl, brother…

  • jake the snake

    Sadly, we are without even one Harbaugh in the Super Bowl much less two. At least from my perspective. Their dad, Jack, coached my Alma Mater to the 2002 1-AA championship, with Jim
    recruting for him. So my normal complete disinterest in the NFL was temporarily subverted.
    Now back to ignoring it.
    BTW, on the subject of WKU, the 1969 football coaching staff included Joe Bugel, Jerry Glanville, and Romeo Crennel as assistant coaches. How many schools, much less then lower division schools can claim three future NFL head coaches on one staff.

  • Shawn

    It reminds me of the Braves having all that great starting pitching, good to really good hitters, and a terrible bullpen year after year.

  • Flounder

    No one one has suggested the 80’s- 90’s Kansas City Chiefs as the Ravens of old? 1st!

  • I hope Jim isn’t learning from John. SF beat the crap out of Eli yesterday ( 5 sacks and 15 or 16 hits). Yeah he had 300 yards but it took him over 60 attempts. But they gifted the Giants 10 pts ironically on special teams play where they were great all year. Alex Smith reverted to Alex Smith so who knows what to expect next year. SF has a great defense but no wideouts and a QB who is suspect. A formula for Ravens like frustration.

    • howard

      btw, i saw this morning that peyton said that he talked with eli on friday night about the precise defense the ravens would use on what became the manningham touchdown and how to attack it….

    • Aaron

      Well, Alex Smith did enough to win, if it weren’t for the uncharacteristic special teams screwups. Two touchdowns, no picks. He was fine. He’s not going to throw for 300 yards, mostly because the 49ers offense doesn’t ask him to (and it’s not clear that if they did, that the 49ers have receivers who can catch 300 yards’ worth of passes).

      The old Alex Smith you refer to is the guy who regularly threw as many interceptions as touchdowns and held onto the ball too long. Smith didn’t do any of that last night, and I’ll be surprised if he does again regularly for however many years he plays for Harbaugh.

      • Ed

        Smith wasn’t bad (not sure I would go so far as to say “did enough to win”) but the offense didn’t give special teams and defense much margin for error, either. A heavier-scoring offense can overcome one or two fumbles. Much tougher when you’re nursing a small lead.

        SF has a great defense but no wideouts and a QB who is suspect.

        Yup.

      • Rhino

        Smith played an excellent game, the frank fact of the matter is that both games this Sunday were toss-ups and one by the team that made the next-to-last mistake. Exciting to watch, but I hope the superbowl is a bit less arbitrary.

        • mpowell

          Excellent game, huh? I wonder if we were watching the same game.

  • efgoldman

    And that led me to thinking–when was the last time a team has been close to an elite team for so long, over a decade in the Ravens’ case, while struggling to establish anything decent at the quarterback position?

    Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with Jay Schroeder, Mark Rypien and Doug Williams, mediocrities all.

    • howard

      efgoldman, not schroeder: he’s who doug williams replaced the year he won, but good reminder that mark rypien belongs in the list of “here’s qbs of the minimum competency to win a super bowl based on the historic evidence.”

      • Rypien was phenomenal that year. The fact that he never performed even close to that standard again doesn’t discount the fact that he was a great QB that one year.

        • efgoldman

          It might suggest something about Gibbs’ coaching staff.

  • The Evans drop was a great play by the cornerback. That was a much less egregious failure than the kick, or even Flacco’s overall performance.

    Baltimore needs to be serious about upgrading the quarterback position to compete for a Super Bowl, but they are so close as it is and starting over at that key position would be such a process that I understand why they wouldn’t do it.

    And also, they’re going to have put a lot of personnel effort into replacing major cogs in their defense that are aging out.

    • scythia

      LOL. Average age of a Baltimore defensive starter is 27. Average age of a Pittsburgh defensive starter is 31. (I couldn’t find enough defensive starters on the NE rosters to )

      I know Ray Lewis is the guy on the teevee in the teasers before the game starts, but we have 10 other guys on the field for every snap, the defensive bench goes about 5 quality guys deep beyond that, and we went 4-0 when Lewis sat this year. But Flacco! Intanglibles! Is Belichick blessed by the Spaghetti Monster or really a scary demon? Thanks for playing!

      • Average age of a Baltimore defensive starter is 27.

        “Don’t worry about Ed; we’ve got some really young linebackers.”

        Yes, that’s exactly how it works; your old starters don’t wear out if you have young starters, too.

        LOL, thanks for playing, etc.

        • scythia

          I’m just hoping we can survive the loss of Tony Siragusa.

          • scythia

            No, but in all seriousness: Reed had his worst season as a pro, we fielded the 4th-best pass defense in the league. Lewis missed four games, our defensive stats actually improved in his absence.

            Not every team is built around an aging superstar, who, when he fades, will take the franchise into the dustbin of history. Have some empathy and attempt to understand fans of a team in a different position then yours.

            • an aging superstar

              No, some are built around two or three, like the Ravens’ defense.

              Have some empathy and attempt to understand fans of a team in a different position then yours.

              As if I didn’t watch this same movie 5-8 years ago in New England. You might remember a certain defense whose foundation was a really nice raft of veteran linebackers.

              • scythia

                “As if I didn’t watch this same movie 5-8 years ago in New England. You might remember a certain defense whose foundation was a really nice raft of veteran linebackers.”

                I do, and if I were at Pats fan I would be livid at what the front office has done since that time.

                • mpowell

                  LOL. This.

                • I do, and if I were at Pats fan I would be livid at what the front office has done since that time.

                  …which brings us back to my point, which you were denying earlier: a team that has core players in its defense aging out needs its front office to do things – things involving draft picks and money – to fill those holes.

          • Of course every team has deal with major talent aging out, and some have been able to do so with quite a bit of success, but Ed Reed will be 34 in next year’s playoffs, and Ray Lewis will be 37 (!) Behind them, the next most important player on the defense, Suggs, will hit 30.

            The first two are already on borrowed time. You can see how the aging of the Baltimore D’s top stars is already taking its toll on the squad’s overall performance, and the rate at which players’ skills deteriorate with time only increases.

            It’s going to take real money and real draft picks (either used or traded) to fill those holes, and it’s going to take years. I don’t see how the Ravens have the luxury of using those resources on upgrading the quarterback position in the near term.

            • scythia

              “It’s going to take real money and real draft picks (either used or traded) to fill those holes, and it’s going to take years.”

              It’s taken years. We’ve been a top-ten defense for over a decade, despite going through four different defensive coordinators. I could be wrong on this, but I believe all of our current defensive starters were drafted by Baltimore and developed in-house. We have an excellent organizational philosophy and a system which is able to maintain a consistent level of quality despite the loss of specific individuals. Our depth in defense, particularly at LB/DB, is excellent — as I alluded to, we have four or five reserves who could start.

              “I don’t see how the Ravens have the luxury of using those resources on upgrading the quarterback position in the near term.”

              We don’t and we’re not going to. Ozzie Newsome runs our team, not Skip Bayless.

              • We don’t

                No, you don’t. You have spend the draft picks and money on the defense, as I’ve been saying from the beginning.

                Are you understanding anything I’m writing at all? Because you’ve flipped-flopped from saying I’m wrong to saying I’m right. The only consistency is your off-topic shots about “Skip Bayless” and “intangibles.”

            • scythia

              FTR, I would say the most important players to our D right now are: Suggs, Ngata, Cody, Reed, Webb, Lewis. In that order.

              • scythia

                Sorry, put Pollard in there at #3.

                • mpowell

                  Pollard is a weird case. He’s been cut elsewhere for not being good enough in pass coverage. He fits a need in the Baltimore defense, but I imagine that he is imminently replaceable (safeties who are good against the run/ bad against the pass aren’t in high demand league-wide). But otherwise I agree with your point.

            • You name three players who are the most important to the Ravens defense, and one of them isn’t Haloti Ngata? Thanks for playing, but try watching more than 2 or 3 games before you opine again.

              • Whether threy’re 1, 2, and 3 or 1, 3, and 5, we’re still talking about major holes showing up in the defense within a couple years of each other as they retire or their skills diminish.

                And the phony little superior dance just comes across as trying too hard.

                • This is ridiculous for its literalness. Replacing someone doesn’t require literally filling the hole at that exact position. You might as well just say that the Patriots offense has major holes because they didn’t get an outside WR to match 2007-08 Randy Moss, ignoring Gronk and Hernandez entirely because they aren’t literally WRs. Reed and Lewis will decline, but changes can be made to schemes to reduce the importance of a free safety and a middle linebacker. Hell, they already made that change w/r/t Lewis years ago, and they’ve started changing the secondary schemes this year to cut back on Reed’s “free-lancing” so the corners can play more man coverage. But sure, with the number of top 20 draft picks that are routinely spent on free safeties and middle linebackers in the modern NFL, it will just be completely impossible to find competent replacements at those positions someday.

                  In fact, you might have noticed that Reed and Lewis missed a combined 10 games in the last two seasons, and the defense has been more or less fine without them, and the team as a whole went 8-2 in those games.

  • Jim Lynch

    Whenever a game is decided by a field goal, responsibility for the loss is divvied-up in equal fashion. Both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and the special teams, are equal partners in that type of beat down.

    Incidentally, I’m a lifelong Niner fan.

    Which is why I long ago cooled my jets about betting on football. And why gamblers usually understand my unwillingness to risk a small fortune on (what-amounts-to) the likelihood a field goal kicker isn’t hungover.

    • Steve in Clearwater

      And also – never underestimate the excellent value offered from the Surprise Ankle Sprain early in any game

  • Close to being an elite team…hampered mainly by the inability to field a decent QB? Until Ben came along this was pretty much the standard lament for my Pittsburgh relatives for most of my lifetime of football awareness (beginning just after Bradshaw.)

    It seems like Pitt consistently fielded stingy defenses, had prominent running backs and quality receivers but people like Malone, Brister, Kordell, Maddox, Tomczak, O’Donnell etc. running the show.

  • timb

    How can you feel sorry for a team whose best player is a hack AND unrepentant murderer/conspirator to murder. As an Indy resident, I think we dodged a bullet. One more Indianapolis resident will be walking around on February 6 than would have if Ray Lewis were comin’ to town

    • How is Ray Lewis a hack?

      Plus, at this point Haloti Ngata is Baltimore’s best player.

  • I’ll be there weren’t a whole lot of sports journalists predicting that it would all come down to New England’s superior kicking game.

  • howard

    Anonymous, i’m writing on a phone and can’t thread my reply.

    I was just thinking qb in my initial comment, but for all time I rate walton #2.

    My #1? Mickey mantle, which just shows you what his potential was!

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