MIKE PRESTON

Ravens should keep Harbaugh, but other changes are necessary

What should the Ravens do with their coach? Mike Preston thinks they should keep John Harbaugh another season.

 

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti needs to remain calm in the wake of his team's elimination from NFL playoff contention after a 31-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

There is no need to overreact and fire coach John Harbaugh, who has failed to get the Ravens into the postseason three of the past four years. That would be based on emotion, not common sense.

Because overall, the Ravens, who finished 5-11 last season, made reasonable progress in 2016. They are already three wins better than they were in 2015, and could finish 9-7 if they beat the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.

And if they had held on to just a few more passes or made more tackles in crunch time to keep Pittsburgh receivers in bounds, they could be hosting a first-round playoff game.

To me, that is improvement. I thought the Ravens would finish at 8-8, or 9-7 with a little luck. If they were below that mark, Harbaugh should have been fired. He should have been let go if the players had tuned him out the way the Buffalo Bills did with Rex Ryan or the New York Jets did with Todd Bowles. But they didn't.

The Ravens, though, do have some pressing problems. What happened to the run defense in the last three games, and why can't this team develop skill-position players? Other topics that need to be addressed are the team's shortcomings in the draft and a roster with so many players over 30.

But the major topic has to be finding impact or great players. All the good teams in the NFL have a couple, and Pittsburgh's big three of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell took over the game in the fourth quarter Sunday.

The Ravens don't have any on offense or defense. So, how do they go about acquiring some? Will there be a receiver, pass rusher or cornerback available via free agency, or is there at least one who can make an immediate impact in the draft?

The bottom line is that the Ravens aren't that far away from being a serious contender. After last season it was going to take at least two years for this team to seriously challenge for a championship, and it is on track.

But Bisciotti needs to insist on some changes in the coaching staff. The Ravens need to find an offensive coordinator to replace Marty Mornhinweg. It was understandable why the Ravens made him the interim coordinator to replace Marc Trestman in the middle of this season, but the results aren't much different.

The Ravens don't need a coordinator who is just an X's-and-O's guy, but one who is demanding and dominant. Quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't have that type of personality, and the offense lacks leadership. The Ravens need to find another Gary Kubiak, someone who will make his players accountable and keep offensive line coach Juan Castillo from interfering with the scheme.

All season, and even against the Steelers, Flacco and his receivers were still out of sync on timing routes and determining who were the “hot” receivers when defenders were blitzing. In the past two weeks, Flacco threw passes to wide receivers Breshad Perriman and Kamar Aiken, who were surprised they were even targets.

That can happen in the first four games of the regular season, but it shouldn't in the final four. The Ravens need a new voice on offense, someone who can develop Perriman and tight end Darren Waller. On defense, Dean Pees does a good job, but the Ravens don't have any consistent pass rushers or a shutdown cornerback. If you don't have at least one, you can't go far in the postseason. You end up roughly .500.

It's time Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome explained why they can't develop a pass rusher. Each year we keep hearing about new young players such as Matthew Judon, Za'Darius Smith and Kamalei Correa, and then they disappear. Do the Ravens need to bring in an assistant who specializes in pass-rushing techniques? That might be a hard sell to Bisciotti, because the Ravens already have one of the largest coaching staffs in the NFL, but the team still has committed more penalties than any team east of the Oakland Raiders.

The Ravens need to purge their roster of veteran players such as outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and safety Lardarius Webb. Receiver Steve Smith Sr. is set to retire after one more game and it's about time for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to do the same.

The Ravens have some difficult choices to make. I like their heart, hustle and toughness. But if management is serious about taking the next step, it will keep Harbaugh in place and make modifications.

A year ago, the Ravens were one of the worst teams in the NFL. This season, they were just a few inches and a couple of tackles away from the playoffs.

They knocked on the door. Next year they either get in, or Bisciotti should shut it on Harbaugh on his way out.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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