If Ravens want to make playoffs, coaching staff, Flacco must stay out of their own way

BALTIMORE, MD – The Ravens may have won their game against the Eagles on Sunday, but they made it extremely difficult on themselves. Up 10 points with six minutes left to go in the game, the Ravens had the ball on Philadelphia’s 11-yard line. Instead of running the ball and letting the clock run down, the Ravens decided to throw the ball. Quarterback Joe Flacco just needed to complete a pass and keep the clock running, so he threw the ball to his most reliable receiver, Steve Smith Sr.

The pass was intercepted by Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Philadelphia answered the turnover by kicking a field goal to make it a seven-point game with 2:22 on the clock. How did the Ravens offense answer, you ask? By going three-and-out and punting the ball back to Philadelphia, who had 1:50 left on the clock and a timeout to work with. Quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles right down the field, and the Eagles scored a touchdown with four seconds left in the game.

With nothing to lose, and no realistic shot of making the playoffs, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson elected to go for the two-point conversion in an attempt to win the game. The attempt was unsuccessful, giving the Ravens the 27-26 win. By a thread.

I don’t even want to call the margin that Baltimore won by a thread. I have too much respect for threads. More like a hair. A leg hair.

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The Ravens coaching staff on the sideline, including head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Credit: WNSTr

The funny thing is, the entire heart-stopping six minutes of the game could have all been avoided. When the Ravens had the ball in the red-zone, they could have easily run the ball three times in a row. There is a good chance that they could have picked up a first down just by handing the ball off three times. In the case that they do not pick up a first down, then okay, they kick a field goal and go up 13 points with roughly four minutes left in the game. Even if Philadelphia is able to score a touchdown on their next drive, the Ravens would still get the ball back and would likely have enough time to run out the clock.

As we all know, that is not how it played out. Instead, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach John Harbaugh allowed Flacco to run the pass play, and Flacco ended up throwing a terrible pass that was intercepted.

“I didn’t see the guy,” Flacco said after the game.

Wow Joe, you didn’t? Hello, captain obvious.

As soon as Flacco got that play call, he should have changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Flacco admitted that he was a little selfish, trying to throw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon. Come on Joe. You’re a ninth-year veteran quarterback. Put the team above yourself and try to win the game instead of trying to put up points for your very few fantasy owners. If your offensive coordinator gives you a stupid play call, you’re allowed to say “screw you” and change it.

What’s so concerning about this situation is that both Flacco and Harbaugh are in their ninth seasons; they should know better. Harbaugh even called it “the worst play call ever” after the game, and took responsibility for the miscue.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco must take better care of the football if the Ravens are to make the playoffs. Credit: USA Today

“I feel in that situation that we got a little greedy,” Harbaugh said. “We should have played it a little more conservatively.”

No matter who has been running the offense in 2016, the play-calling by both Marc Trestman and Mornhinweg has been a problem for the Ravens. This coaching staff has not utilized their run game all season, and they should have on that fourth quarter drive. It’s not like the Ravens weren’t having any success running the football on Sunday; Terrance West had 77 yards on 14 carries, averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry. With West having a game like that, there is no reason to not give him the ball in that situation. The coaching staff’s refusal of running the football has been a head-scratcher all season.

One could argue that the coaching has costed the Ravens games, particularly in October when the Ravens went through a four-game losing streak. The Ravens lost their week 4 game against the Raiders 28-27 after Harbaugh accepted a penalty that he should have declined. On an Oakland third down play,  a Raiders offensive guard was flagged for unnecessary roughness. If Harbaugh declined the penalty it would have been fourth down and the Raiders would have had to kick a field goal, meaning Baltimore would still have the lead. Instead, Harbaugh accepted the penalty, the Raiders immediately converted the third down, and then scored the winning touchdown.

The next week, the Ravens lost their game against the Redskins, 16-10. In that game, after running an unsuccessful draw play on 3rd-and-11, the Ravens lined up to kick a field goal. But something was fishy; Justin Tucker, a right-footed kicker, lined up on the left-hand side. The ball was snapped to Tucker, who threw an incomplete pass. The Ravens threw an easy three points in the garbage can there; no way to sugarcoat it.

Yes, the Ravens have won six of their last eight games, but the coaching issues have popped up here and there all season. This team is looking to win their final two games and win the AFC North. If the Ravens want to do that, they cannot get in their own way and make things harder on themselves. They may have been able to get away with their miscues against a team like the Eagles, but that won’t happen against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Day. It also won’t happen against teams they would face in the playoffs, like the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs or the Raiders.

This game on Christmas may very well decide whether or not the Ravens make the playoffs. The Steelers have won five straight games and lead the Ravens by a game in the division. Their offense is extremely high-powered, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown. It is still a possibility that the Ravens are going to be without shut-down corner-back Jimmy Smith, so the Steelers could have a big day on offense if the Ravens defense does not come to play.

I changed my focus to the defense in that last paragraph, but my point is that if the Ravens defense struggles on Sunday, the offense and the coaching staff will need to make minimal mistakes if they want to walk out of Pittsburgh with a win. At this point, I doubt that they can do that. Dating back to the 2014 playoffs, the Ravens have won four straight games against the Steelers. Getting that fifth straight win appears to be a daunting task, because the Ravens not only have to overcome the Steelers, but also themselves.

Are the Ravens capable of winning in Pittsburgh? Absolutely. They have won their last two games at Heinz Field and are not intimidated of playing there. But, Mornhinweg appears to be throwing darts when it comes to play-calling, and Flacco is prone to making crucial mistakes in big-time situations. The Ravens have the talent to beat Pittsburgh, but they need to get out of their own way if they are going to do that.

 

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