Ravens Show The Way For 2008 Flops
by Rob Staton
Last year the Baltimore Ravens finished a disappointing 5-11. Inconsistency at quarter back, a stagnated offense and too much pressure on an elite defense. All this just a year removed from a franchise best 13-3 campaign which had the fans in Baltimore dreaming of a second Super Bowl title.
The 2007 season was supposed to be Baltimore’s launch towards another deep playoff run. Ultimately the season proved a massive disappointment. Amongst the Ravens odious achievements – a nine game losing streak and humiliatingly being the only team to lose to the 1-15 Miami Dolphins.
Not exactly what was predicted, right?
That’s because this year there are a few teams in a similar state. Big expectations at the start of the year, ambitions of fighting for division titles and competing in the playoffs? They were the bare minimum achievements expected from the Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After fourteen weeks, they have a combined win total of eleven. They may have hoped for that total individually. The Seahawks in particular have taken a dramatic fall from grace falling to 2-11 after a 24-21 defeat to the Patriots in week 14.
But the reason for this comparison to the Ravens is that Baltimore has shrugged off their 2007 disappointment to bounce back into relevance.
All it took was some coaching changes and a solid draft.
So is there any hope for this year’s biggest disappointments in 2009?
Let’s look back to 2007 again.
In Week 16, the Ravens made the long trip to the Pacific Northwest for a match with the recently crowned NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks. With a laundry list of injuries and a rookie QB starting for the first time, the Ravens were well beaten 27-6. That was the ninth consecutive loss at the time, a stat that would have been a low point if they hadn’t helped the Dolphins drop that doughnut the previous week.
It’s ironic that a year on, the roles have been reversed. The Ravens are in the heat of the AFC battle whilst the Seahawks, sporting a similarly crowded medical room and a merry-go-round at quarter back are lurching to a 6th straight defeat to the Patriots. With three games left they could easily match the Ravens nine week losing streak.
The Ravens response to a 5-11 season was to fire Brian Billick and replace him with a younger John Harbaugh. Cam Cameron made enough of an impression in Miami’s defeat of Baltimore to be given a gig as offensive co-ordinator and the team wisely retained the services of the excellent Rex Ryan.
Despite losing Jonathan Ogden the team used the draft to rebuild the offense taking quarter back Joe Flacco after some first round manoeuvring. Flacco had his doubters initially - I have to admit to being in that camp. His highlight reel from Delaware showed a powerful arm but an awkward lack of agility and a need to be slowly developed into the pro-game.
But under the guidance of Cameron, who has proven his worth as a co-ordinator and mentor after a disastrous spell as a head coach, Flacco has shone.
Offensively they rank 18th overall. It doesn’t look that great on the surface, but that’s ahead of the always potent Indianapolis Colts and perhaps more importantly, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The overall result is a more productive offense, taking the pressure away from that elite defense and a football team capable of fighting out with the AFC’s best.
The 2007 Ravens are a distant memory.
The Seattle Seahawks could do a lot worse than make Baltimore their role model for 2009.
They’re already part the way there. Like Billick, the Seahawks are preparing to bid farewell to long standing coach Mike Holmgren. In his place, the younger face of Jim Mora. He will likely be bringing a new coaching staff with him and first on the hit list has to be an offensive mastermind who can have the same influence Cameron has had in Baltimore.
Next, they need to rebuild that offense. Although not of the same quality, the Seahawks defense is capable of being at the top end of the rankings alongside the Ravens. With big name veterans like Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant and Patrick Kerney there’s something to work with.
But that defense has often faced too much time on the field in 2008. They need some support from the offense.
This is where the rebuilding will begin.
There’s no sign Walter Jones will ‘do an Ogden’ and retire. But Matt Hasselbeck’s back must be a cause for concern. Consistently dismissed in the off season as a minor nuance, the back has been the catalyst for a string of injuries. At 34 years of age and with a cap hit of $9m scheduled for next year, one of the most familiar faces in the NFL might be wearing a different helmet next year.
That would be the ruthless move to end all ruthless moves, but Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell has shown he will make big decisions. 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander was cut before the ’08 campaign.
If the doctors say Hasselbeck’s back will be a problem for the rest of his career, which is possible, Ruskell has a tough choice to make. Rumours circulating in the media this week have hinted that Seattle is already preparing for life in the post-Hasselbeck era.
So will the Seahawks, like the Ravens this year, consider putting their faith in a rookie signal caller? If Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow declare for the NFL draft, at least one if not all will be available for Seattle if, as expected, they draft in the top five.
Of course, Flacco only got his big break when injury and illness stopped Kyle Boller and Troy Smith starting the season. Seneca Wallace’s display against the Patriots provides the security blanket should a rookie not take to the NFL as well as Flacco and fellow first year starter Matt Ryan have.
It would be an ambitious and some would argue potentially reckless rebuild for Seattle. But the Ravens have proved this year that some smart moves in the off season can make a disappointing season a one off, one year blunder.
The Hawks can learn a lot from the Ravens if they want to fly high in 2009.