Ravens' process means little if it doesn't result in progress

SOMEWHERE between Sunday's ouster from the NFL playoffs and yesterday's State of the Ravens address, the Ravens went from declaring a need to get "substantially better" to an affirmation that the "process works."

Which one is it, fellas?


To be fair, the two very different messages are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The Ravens do need to get substantially better.


Not only aren't they in the playoffs, but they also aren't close to being a bye team - not when Pittsburgh heads the AFC North class at 15-1 and New England is 14-2.

Talk all you want about parity in the NFL. After beating the Dolphins on Sunday, the Ravens at 9-7 still had a shot at the postseason until Denver beat Indianapolis. The suspense and permutations no doubt make for exciting playoff races down to the final Sunday.

That doesn't mean a handful of NFL teams truly don't distinguish themselves as the cream of the crop each season through coaching and various strategic systems.

This is where the Ravens' offseason self-examination needs to begin.

In the past, the Ravens have been satisfied replacing capable coaches and personnel. This winter, replacements aren't enough. It's time for new ideas, fresh energy, an offense that does more than occasionally throw deep and hope for the best.

"Whoever we bring in will have a very strong say in how we rebuild our offense," coach Brian Billick said.

One can only hope, because the Ravens have a lot more work this offseason than perhaps any other, including the post Super Bowl salary-shedding they undertook for 2002.

They are at a serious crossroads, not only because they have finally admitted they need a new offense, but because the rest of the NFL keeps moving at warp speed, making the Ravens' reliance on process immaterial, almost irrelevant.


"We're going to take a very critical look at ourselves. I want to look back one day and say this is where we took steps to being an elite team," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday.

One can only hope the follow-through matches the intent.

For the Ravens, it's true that process got them a series of stellar draft picks.

Process got them franchise players.

Process got them a Super Bowl-caliber defense.

It also got them a happy-footed starting quarterback who, through 15 NFL starts, still raised the question whether he was a legitimate starting quarterback.


But organizational process means nothing if it doesn't get you wins, if it doesn't get you a playoff berth.

To attain these things, it takes action and reaction by a football organization that is not only sticking to its process but counterbalancing what other organizations are doing.

What will the Ravens' answer be to Pittsburgh, which has reinvented itself with Ben Roethlisberger? What will it be to the elite teams all across the NFL that the Ravens could not beat?

Good for Newsome when he says the organization may think twice about bringing back all its starters.

The hair-on-fire mentality it takes to reinvent an NFL team into Super Bowl contender is not foreign to the Ravens.

The only problem is, when it comes to seeking radical solutions, it's always other teams that are firing and hiring and raiding the Ravens for their talent.


Cincinnati took Marvin Lewis; Jacksonville plucked Jack Del Rio; Donnie Henderson has helped the Jets.

Official as of yesterday, the Browns have brought the Ravens' personnel director, Phil Savage, back to Cleveland, where he's the new general manager.

Along with Savage, Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might go, too, as the Browns' new coach.

Shake-ups are in vogue in the NFL. Jon Gruden, golden boy from Oakland, is already on the verge of being persona non grata in Tampa Bay.

Joe Gibbs is no savior in D.C., which could mean more changes for the Redskins. Same goes for Dallas. The 49ers' free fall continues, no matter how many coaches they hire and fire.

The Ravens may not want to admit it, but this is the company they're keeping this January: losers and weepers.


They don't see it that way. The Super Bowl glow still casts a certain spell on them.

"We are a process-oriented organization. The process works," Ozzie Newsome said yesterday.

"Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Donnie Henderson with the Jets. That's our process."

Billick echoed the refrain, taking another opportunity to chastise the great unwashed from the media and anyone else that suggests the Ravens have problems.

"If we have so many problems, why do so many people want to back a truck up to our door and take all our people away?" Billick said.

Unless this display of arrogance was simply a tactic for belittling critics, the Ravens do have a problem.


It's called mistaking process for results.