In today's paper, I attempted to address the Siragusa-sized elephant standing on the sidelines of M&T Bank Stadium:
It's not an easy question to answer. To really do it right, you'd have to watch hours and hours of film (coaches film, not the TV feed) with someone who could help you understand protections, defensive alignments and play calls. And then follow that up by interviewing players and getting candid answers. That's virtually impossible. Thus, we're left with a lot of armchair analysis (some better than others) by media and fans.
Asking the question, however, did give me an opportunity to reach out to some fans -- on the Sun message board, on Twitter and over email -- and get their opinions. The opinions of the customer do matter. But the one stipulation I had before agreeing to share those opinions on this blog was that fans attach their real names to their words. No anonymous rip jobs. Whatever you think of John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison, I think you'll concede they all work very hard. They all have families. The Internet can be a sketchy place sometimes, as we all know. Handling criticism is part of the job of an NFL coach, but words carry a lot more weight when people actually have the courage to own them.
Expectations were set very high this year for the Ravens. Even though they didn't come right out and boast that they would be going to the Super Bowl, or that they were the team to beat in the AFC the way the Jets did, they made it clear the goal was winning a championship. Every inconsistency, when coupled with the addition of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, has been magnified by those expectations. But as Harbaugh told me when I interviewed him for the story "We could go on a three-game winning streak [to end the season], and everyone would be really excited."
So how would fans describe the job done thus far by Harbaugh and his staff? If you read on, you'll see from the excepts of emails I received, it's complicated.
-- Kevin Van ValkenburgI'm utterly dismayed, but not surprised, by all the complaining about the Ravens' coaches. Baltimore fans have become spoiled babies that somehow expect the Ravens to win every game and cry bitterly when they lose. The Ravens came into the season expecting Jared Gaither and Dominique Foxworth to play vitally important positions on their respective sides of the balls. Instead, neither played a down. And yet the Ravens' coaches never once publicly complained about the difficulty those losses presented, and instead focused on using the guys that remained at their disposal to play the best they could.
Ravens fans should consider themselves fortunate that for the third consecutive year of Harbaugh's tenure, they are among the very best teams in the NFL, with a genuine chance to contend for the Super Bowl. It is absurd and slightly embarrassing to see Ravens' fans complain about such continued success.
James Smith, Towson
From what I have seen this year, thus far, has been disappointing from a coaching stand point. As a former player and a student of the game, it is obvious that the Ravens staff needs to have a game plan on Sunday, but they need to be more creative with adjusting the plan, subbing out players when their tired, adapt better to the flow of the game.
Harbaugh needs to grow a pair and grab the reigns of the derailing train (much like Billick did with Fossil) and lead this team to victory. It is difficult to watch a vastly improved offensive juggernaut sputter out and slowly take a nose dive when the head coach stands on the sidelines with a blank stare. If it were me on those sidelines, I would be chewing people out, and giving them the necessary tools to succeed as a team.
I think Cam is actually doing an OK job, he could be better, but without Gaither, and the upgrades at receiver, Cam needs to continue to throw the ball and stick with that game plan, then run to kill the clock and on small yardage/red zone. Pass to setup the run, play to the strengths.
I also think that because the O has practiced pass blocking and passed the ball so much throughout the year, that when a run play is called, they are rusty and out of sync.
Kevin Patrick, Ft. Lauderdale
Cameron reminds me way too much of Ted Marchibroda and his philosophy of “trying not to lose” instead of “trying to win.” A great example is how the Ravens completely changed their offensive “strategy” against Houston and tried to sit on a 21 point lead. Granted that’s a pretty big lead but as we’ve seen all year with the defense, no lead is a safe lead. Cam Cameron seems to just, well change, when the Ravens hit the red zone. Way too conservative and not enough fire in his belly to “take it to them.” He needs to change.
And finally, I am soooooooooooooo sick of the three man rush and dropping back into coverage I could scream. In the Houston game, Schaub looked like he was throwing in practice. It was tough to watch. FINALLY, when Mattison made a change to a four man rush in OT, we saw the difference right away with the pic – end of game.
Richard Thompson, Catonsville
I've thought since his hiring that Harbaugh was unqualified, and overmatched. That theory rings true against the better teams we play, as the Ravens are routinely out coached. I think it was wrong to [promote] Greg Mattison instead of Clarence Brooks. I feel that the family friendship is clouding his judgment, and will continue in the future.
It's obvious as the talent improves on this team, the results get worse. I though he overachieved in year one, and has underachieved with better talent the last two years. I think Steve needs to step in and force changes amongst the coaching staff, if we go one and done in the playoffs.
I think the Ravens coaching staff is doing an excellent job. As much as everyone likes to second guess them, you just can't argue with the results. Losing to Pittsburgh felt horrible, but I feel like the coaches are putting the players in a position to win every game. Sometimes the other team doesn't let that happen. The Steelers are a very strong football team, like the Ravens. They have excellent coaching, again like the Ravens. I think the Ravens problems stem from the players not making the plays, not from the coaches putting them in wrong formations or bad schemes. The Ravens are in every game, look well prepared, and most of the time come out on top. Three straight playoff runs is hard to do in the NFL, and that is something coach Harbaugh and his staff have accomplished. I think too many people just don't give him the credit he deserves. He has a great football attitude, a real mans coach. I love his rah-rah go get 'em attitude and I think he was and is the best man for the job!
There is truly an advantage to being a fan of a team that is not in your local area. In my case, I currently reside in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I have been able to watch both the Ravens' and Saints' games every Sunday. Here is what I see: The New Orleans Saints' coaching staff realizes what game plan must be put in place in order to successfully put the opposing team away. The Ravens are just the opposite. Every Sunday I have to ask myself, "Why on Earth does Cam Cameron continually go conservative with his play-calling in the fourth quarter?" After eight (I believe) comebacks by opposing teams, you would think that our "genius" of an OC would learn to change his play-calling tactics. Regarding Greg Mattison, we have the same problem. The defense continuously goes into "prevent mode" whenever playing with a mild lead, instead of playing with the same ferocity seen in the first half. Mattison must keep the pressure on the opposing QB for four quarters, not two. The coaching staff has been laughable, to say the least, and I believe that it is finally time for Coach Harbaugh to take the reigns and set the coordinators straight. If he can't set them straight, then someone in the front office has to. The only way the Ravens can find success in the playoffs is if they learn to put teams away. It does not get any more simple than that, and the coaches are the first to blame.
Lawrence Barreca, New Orleans
The Ravens have meet met my expectations so far this season. They are a 9-4 team with essentially one win away from making the playoffs. This, presumably, will be the third straight year that Coach John Harbaugh has made the playoffs. A remarkable accomplishment for a first time head coach with a rookie QB in his first year. From Harbaugh's first press conference in 2008, I liked the way he talked about building a physical, winning football team and I liked his demeanor. So far, he has built a winning football team that plays hard week in and week out. A Ravens team that save for the Bengals in Week 2 has beaten every losing team it's faced. Under this coaching staff letdowns are not expected. On the other hand, Harbaugh and his staff benefits from one of the more talented rosters in the league, but I believe success can only be measured by wins and losses, and this staff has put together a winning team for three straight years.
Harbaugh's coordinators, Mattison and Cameron, are more questionable. I think in Baltimore's coaching system, the coordinators have considerable power and influence (unlike New England). When an offensive play doesn't work, I question Cameron, who I assume is the sole offensive playcaller during games. When the defense gives up big plays in crucial situations because of their scheme, I look at Mattison. I see Harbaugh as an overseer or a figurehead with his subordinates calling the shots.
There aren't too many good things for me to say about the coordinators. They, like the head coach, are a reflection of the team's record. But, to me they are more blamable because they call the plays and formations.
I predicted the team to go 11-5 when the season started and so far they are on track. I'm satisfied with the season so far and I'm optimistic about heir chances in the playoffs. If they do not meet a certain level of expectations the coaching staff, particularly the coordinators, needs to be evaluated by the front office. At this point I would say Harbaugh should have his contract extended but the coordinators should be wary off their jobs.
I understand the criticism for the coaches, especially Cam Cameron. He's impacted several of the games we've lost. In Cincinnati, Ray Rice was averaging 5.4 yards per carry but only got 18 carries while Flacco threw 39 times in a game where the Ravens were never down by more than 9 points. Even after Flacco had thrown 2 and 3 interceptions, Cameron kept passing, and ultimately Flacco threw a 4th INT. In New England, he noticeably took his foot off the gas in the second half and refused to use Willis McGahee when he committed to the run and allowed the Patriots to work their way back into the game. In Atlanta, he threw the ball 5 straight times on a drive in the 3rd quarter after the Ravens had scored to make it 13-7, Atlanta. The Ravens punted, and the Ravens tired defense had to come back on the field and allowed the Falcons to drive for 75 yards and over 6 minutes for a touchdown. Against Pittsburgh, he was PASSING on a second down late in the fourth quarter which resulted in the Polamalu sack and fumble that eventually lost the Ravens the game.
What will it be next?
I think Harbaugh is taking a lot of flack for just standing on the same sidelines as Cameron and being aggressive toward the media, but if there is any noticeable problem on the coaching staff, it's Cameron.
Sean Jester, Frederick
It appears to many, that the letdowns in game after game, are a result of an unwillingness of the coaching staff to see the obvious and act upon it.
Access the situation, adapt, and overcome. Not all that difficult.
The Raven organization has finally put together, on paper, an explosive offense.
The talent is across the board. Losing a starting LT is not ideal, but the team should adjust to compensate.
With the opposition blitzing more often, Flacco should be in the shotgun more. Give him a little more time. Give his veteran wideouts more time to shake free. Run some more crossing routes. Who can stay with Boldin, Mason, Housh, and Stallworth while they are crisscrossing all over the field??? No one. I think Brady and Manning would love to have those 4 in house.
Defensively, pressure the quarterback, even if it means bringing in the special teams' backers. Please, PLEASE STOP the 3 man rush/prevent.
This Raven team is very talented. Many think enough to win it all. Let them open it up against the defending champs and see where the chips fall.
To start off I like Coach Harbaugh I don't mind his media antics I think they are overblown with some people. I think he is a good coach as far as getting the team prepared for the season through summer camp. Since Billick the team has looked far more ready at the opening of the season. Football ready and conditioned. He has the team ready to beat teams they're suppose to beat rather than having a let down or a "set-up" game get him. With that being said I think he needs to do a better job holding his OC and DC accountable. This team is so talented yet they let every team stay with them. They want to be so "cute" and respectful that they let other teams stay and/or get back into games. I think he has to bury the friendship and put the business ahead. Mattison is not the right DC for this defense and should be fired at the end of the season. This team and defense is know for it's aggressiveness and we have lost that with Mattison.
Cameron is another topic in himself. He's one of the best OC's in the league yet he let's his ego take over for him at times. He wants to have this reputation of throwing and throwing the ball that he forgets the run game sometimes. Not saying that he doesn't have running in the game plan because we are trying to run and I understand the O line isn't what it was last year but, he out smarts himself. For instance the Cincy game instead of sticking to what was working and keeping the ball on the ground he wants to dial up all these passes even when Joe was having a horrible game. He doesn't know when to be conservative and when to be aggressive. This team should at the least be 11-2 probably 12-1. The coaches lost NE game and the Pittsburgh game.
Jared Chichester, Randalstown
John Harbaugh – This may sound crazy to a lot of people, but my frank assessment is that he is still needs to learn some things about being a head coach. What do I mean by this? Let’s start with game management, and use the Houston game as our setting. To quote Jerry Glanville, “Sir, this is the NFL. That stands for Not For Long when you make those kinds of calls.” Now, I don’t know if John instructed Mattison to start running a “D” that would wear everyone down to the point they needed oxygen, but if he’s any kind of head coach at all, he had to know what was going on. I wager he won’t let it happen again.
Greg Mattison – Until someone shows me otherwise, I feel like Greg is in way over his head, and his rather fragmented explanation of the defensive scheme he used in the second half of the Houston game makes my point. A three man rush when you have a 21 point lead? WHAT was he thinking? You have Ngata, Gregg, Redding and Cody. How about a little 4-3 with Suggs or Johnson blitzing? Or how about a little 3-4 with one of those DTs playing ILB and Suggs or Johnson blitzing? Cripes, if our rushing LB situation is that bad, call up Adalius Thomas.
Cam Cameron – I have a very ambivalent feeling about Cam. As far as play design and innovativeness, he’s class “A”. My problems with Cam lie in other areas. Specifically, I feel like he isn’t really getting as involved as he should be with the basic details that playoff caliber teams should make look easy. Case in point, totally unblocked defensive players getting free shots on the quarterback. I know that sometimes this WILL happen, but it should be so rare that when it does happen, it’s because there was a natural disaster of biblical proportion. Let’s face it. When a strong safety lines up to the side of the guy that the left tackle is supposed to block, someone in the backfield HAS to recognize that and when he comes in, knocks him into his next life. If Ray Rice is to small for that, the let Willis or McClain do it. Better yet, how about teaching Joe to check down and have the TE go in motion to that side and let HIM take the guy down.
I'm am a huge Ravens fan and admittedly this season has been frustrating. It is rather maddening, however, that our fanbase may complain and whine our way through a 12-4 season. A 12-4 season would mark Harbaugh's best record and the second best record in franchise history. The obvious reason for so much calamity about the team is the sky high expectations from the preseason.
Sometimes I feel like it is becoming worn out to say that this team is underperforming. The thought is that our TEAM is too talented to let inferior opponents hang around or to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against better teams. There is much more to a team than the players though. On any given play it takes the correct scheme and playcall AND eleven men doing their jobs in order to succeed. There are certainly times where our coaches don't put our players in the best positions.
Example being: Monday night our offensive line and backs were having serious trouble pass blocking. Houston continued to blitz to take advantage of that. Cameron continued to call plays out of under-center formations. We continually ran play action passes which we're not effective at all for two reasons. 1. Our run game was poor so the threat to run wasn't there. 2. Our line wasn't blocking well enough for Joe to fake and get his head around to read the field.
Our offense lacks tempo. It is an offense that takes too long to put the ball into the hands of the playmakers. There is rarely any YAC. We need to make a concerted effort to get Boldin and Rice the ball. Rice needs to get the ball in space, because the space is not there when he is handed the ball.
Ultimately, our coaching staff needs to improve. But our players also need to step up. They are paid big money to get the job done, and the coaches can only scheme so much. If a run is called that run play will work 90 percent of the time if all eleven men do their job.
Many fans have gone off the deep end, saying that they are giving up on the team this year. That we have no shot to advance in the playoffs. That's just plain wrong. An NFL football team is a work in progress through every game of the season. Ask the 2006 Colts and 2007 Giants if their fans thought they were Super Bowl bound in Week 17 of those years. Whoever comes to play in January will be the team that moves on to Dallas. We have a legitimate shot to be that team because we have arguably the most talented roster in the league with veterans that have good playoff experience.
Kyle Purkey, Harrisonburg
I find it disturbing that there are huge numbers of fans who see plays/formations that have haunted the ravens for sometime, yet the coaches do nothing to change midgame. If you are running from the shotgun and you have scored TD's doing so, don't out think yourself, continue to run in until the opposing team either stops it or gives up another score. You have a 50/50 shot and if momentum is in your favor from your previous endeavors, chances are it is going to work.
This is not me saying run every play from the shotgun, but establish one part of your offense and the other will feed off of it. Whether it be pounding the rock 40 times a game, or throwing 60 times a game establish one and go with it. On the defensive side, stop running a prevent defense. It really doesn't get much simpler than that.
Also, if you are more worried about putting guys in a doghouse than fielding the best team you can, your priorities need to change.
Sean Ernst, San Diego
It seems pretty apparent based on the direction this team is heading that John Harbaugh's greatest skill is his ability to handle a job interview. I'm hoping he gets to do it again real soon.
He's been terrible at game management, frequently making poor decisions with regard to clock management and red flag challenges. He simply doesn't seem capable of thinking on his feet.
He also seems to wield power simply to intimidate and to show the players who's boss. He demands their respect, rather than earning it. Yet he unconditionally defends his offensive and defensive coordinators despite the poor performance of their respective units.
Harbaugh just might be in over his head and he's probably not too far from losing the locker room entirely. Generally, one of the best ways to evaluate a coach is by how much a team, and it's players, improve over the course of a season. Sadly, the Ravens are moving in reverse. They just don't look like a well-coached team. Don't be fooled by his won-loss record, he took over a good team. Look instead at whether this squad is achieving its potential. IMO, they are not. Nor do they appear to be on the verge of doing so.
I think Bisciotti made a mistake in selecting an unproven second tier assistant coach and elevating him to situation for which he was not qualified. As a professional headhunter, Bisciottti's his weakness may lie in his desire to find undiscovered talent. However, the NFL isn't American Idol. Next time, I hope he opts for a coach with a proven track record.
Paul Cascio, Bristol
The one area that concerns me about John is why certain players get into his doghouse and never seem to get out. Willis McGahee, Fabian Washington, Darnell Ellerbee. We never hear what happens and he makes up excuses why they aren't playing. Remember when McGahee was MIA a few weeks ago? You ask Willis if he was injured or why he wasn't available and you get no logical explanation.
As far as Cameron, I believe the offensive line did him in this year. He is not a bad coach but doesn't seem to have the ability to recognize when certain areas of your team are underperforming you need to make adjustments to your game plan. Marchibroda once said that he didn't run the Bills offense here because he didn't have the type of players to make it work. But Cam seems to lack the will this year to adjust to problems that arose during the season. The last 2 years Cam toned down the offense to fit Flacco's limited playbook and bailed him out with a great run game plan consisting of the 3 headed monster- Rice, McGahee, McClain. This year he seems bound and determined to use the added receivers come hell or high water.
I've defended Mattison all year against people who say the defense has suffered without Rex. I don't care how many yards a defense gives up it is the total points that matter. The Ravens were 4th in points given up last week. That's pretty darn good when you consider you lost your HOF safety, starting cornerback and two cornerbacks are coming off surgeries. My only problem with him is he admitted to only rushing 3 men because he needed the extra guys to help cover their receivers. But if you notice whenever we pressured Schaub, he threw incomplete or the interception. You cannot have guy run around for 10 seconds because someone will eventually get open.
As fans we are frustrated for one very big reason- Everyone knows we should have beaten the Patriots, Steelers (twice), and the Falcons. If we were 5-8 there would be many things to complain about and we would look toward fixing them next year. But when you are this close to being dominating and your not everything is magnified and every play scrutinized until someone has to take the blame. Unfortunately, every coach can take blame for at least one loss so far.
Greg Simmons, Essex
Here's my 2 cents as to why the team has underachieved this year despite all their talent, and big names
1) The offensive line. While it's true Gaither's injury hurt the line more than anticipated, IMO, the coaching staff made a huge mistake moving Yanda over to RT, and inserting Chester at RG. Yanda is the most physical lineman and best run blocker on the team and the Ravens need his physical presence in the interior. Moving him over to tackle took most of the muscle out of the running game. And replacing him w/Chester. Chris Chester has to be the worst run blocking RG in the league. I keep hearing about Chester's athleticism, quickness and ability to get to the 2nd level, but I never see that on the field. All I see is a tight end pretending to be an offensive lineman and getting overpowered on every play. He's neither strong enough, or tough enough to be a Guard in the NFL, and next to Kyle Boller is probably Ozzie's biggest draft mistake in recent memory.
What they should've done is keep Yanda at RG, put Cousins at RT, and just run the ball down people's throats. Despite all the new offensive weapons the Ravens added this offseason, the offense is still at it's most effective playing smashmouth football. I think it would be a lot easier to teach Cousins to be an effective pass blocker than it would be to teach Chester to be an effective run blocker. He's been here for 5 years and I think it's time to officially declare Chester a bust. Finally this past week, they moved Yanda to RG, but that move's about 2 months too late.
2) The play calling. It seems like Cameron is more concerned w/proving he's an offensive genius, than by winning games. Case in point. Earlier this year, the Buffalo Bills played here, and they far and away had the worst ranked run defense in the league. I'm a middle aged white guy and I could probably run for a 100 yards against them. So what does Cam do? He goes pass happy, never even trying to establish a ground game against the 32nd ranked run D in the league. Even the announcers on TV kept saying they didn't understand the play calling. Maybe this is one reason Cameron has never won a championship - he gets too cute w/his playcalling and out thinks himself. When you're playing the worst run D in the league, you just simply line up and run it down their throats until they stop you, especially on a day when the Ravens secondary made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Peyton Manning. It was important to keep our vulnerable D off the field. Brian Billick who preferred the pass was smart enough to understand this back in '00, and we all know what happened that year. Even worse, when the run's not working, like against the Jets and the Pats earlier this year, then he sticks w/it, and that's when you abandon the ground game and take to the air. It's like he's not even paying attention to whats happening on the fiedl. It's during those times that Harbaugh needs to grow a pair and stand up to Cam and his questionable play calling
3) Harbaugh's doghouse. OK I get it. Harbaugh wants to prove he's the head coach, and the one in charge, but c'mon, enough's enough. What does he have against Donnelle Ellerbe? Next to Ray, Ellerbe's clearly best linebacker on the team, easily superior to Gooden or MacLain, yet Harbaugh seems to have something against this guy. Yeah I know he showboated in a preseason game, but if every coach benched every player who ever showboated, half the players in the league would be ineligible. Harbaugh needs to put aside whatever personal grudge he has against Ellerbe, put him back out on the field before the Ravens LB corps makes another 3rd string RB look like Barry Sanders. While we're at it lets also see more of Terrence Cody and Justin McKinney. I like Kelly Gregg, but he clearly hasn't been the same since his knee operation, and is a liability in run defense.