Early Season Communication Issues Not Unexpected for Ravens
Let’s not mince words and let’s get right to it. The Ravens lost three great leaders and communicators on the defensive side of the ball this offseason and the proper thing to do was to have faith in the process and hope our young guys will step up. After all, that’s how the Ravens have done it for years and it always seemed to work out. However, at no previous time had we lost so many leaders, players who had multiple years in the system, and so many from a single position group, the linebackers. Never before has the defense had such a daunting task put in front of it. How it responds now is more important than what it has done the past two weeks.
To say there are communications problems is a little obvious. When opposing wide receivers are running free in the secondary and running backs break the line of scrimmage and run for 80 yards, clearly there is confusion in the defense. There is no doubt that Eric Weddle, though challenged in coverage, was a master of subterfuge and making sure all the bases were covered. When Mosley had injury issues, Weddle took over play calling, and the defense performed masterfully. Suggs had seen so much in the years that he has been in the league that no matter the play call, he could sniff out a screen, or a run and nobody set the edge better than him. Expecting new players coming in or young replacements to come in and be able to perform remotely as well as Weddle, Mosley and Suggs was just unrealistic. Not to mention the loss of Z Smith and his pass rushing ability, evident in Green Bay, was also underestimated. A lot of faith was put into defensive coordinator Martindale’s system, but it appears that it may have been far too complex, too soon, for this group of new and young players.
The Ravens have attempted to address some of the issues by signing several linebackers this week. Former Steeler and NFL traveler L.J. Fort and former Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes were signed to bolster a very young linebacker corps. Bynes joins former Super Bowl teammate Pernell McPhee and the Ravens are hoping lightning strikes twice and they experience the same success with Bynes that they have had with McPhee. To make room for the new additions, the Ravens released Timmy Williams who never seemed to quite get to the quarterback or set the edge. Both are things the Ravens are struggling with and needed him to step up and provide. If I am Tyus Bowser, I put a little extra effort into everything I do. The Ravens aren’t used to these types of performances and aren’t going to stand by idly while players don’t produce. Jerry Glanville got it right, the NFL stands for “Not for Long”, and that applies to players as well as refs, if you’re not producing.
The bright side to all of this, the silver lining so to speak, is as they work through these issues, and resolve their problems, they are developing the communication, rapport and cohesiveness that has served the Ravens so well for years. To think in the first 4 games, the first quarter of the season, that they would have worked out all of the issues that they would be faced with is ignoring the complexity of the defense, opposing offensive coordinators, and the need for accountability to make it all work. Each week offensive coordinators are watching the tape knowing that there are young and inexperienced players in this defense and they plan to exploit it. Sometimes it can be fixed at halftime and sometimes it has to wait until the following week and sometimes it requires personnel changes, but any way, it gets fixed. The Ravens may get beaten, but they wont get beaten routinely the same way or heads will roll, and we may not have seen the last of that either. With the reported dust up between Earl Thomas and Brandon Williams, it is clear there will be accountability, and no one is going to shy away from addressing issues that need to be broached regardless of whose feeling get hurt. That is a good thing.
The Ravens are going into week 5 to face the Steelers a better team than they were going into week 4. Adversity builds strength and from the mess ups on the field to the dust ups off the field, the Ravens are working to build a family unit. In family units when things go wrong, everyone gets together and resolves the problems and those responsible are held accountable. Whether family, business or team, that is the blueprint for success. Ravens fans are spoiled by top defenses, being able to bring in the next generation and having them educated by the old guard and indoctrinated in the philosophy of “Play Like a Ravens.” Unfortunately, we lost too many educators and hadn’t provided adequate time for the next generation to get up to speed. With that recognition, we brought back some old guard, brought in some new faces, and are in the process of rebuilding the Ravens defense to expected levels and doing it before the last quarter of the year and into the playoffs. The expectations for the Ravens defense will always be the same, but it may take a few weeks for all the new pieces to mesh into something that a Ravens fan recognizes.