Ravens coach John Harbaugh covered a lot of material at Monday’s season-ending news conference, from talking about his new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to improving on big offensive plays and quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury.
He also said Greg Roman will return as offensive coordinator in 2022, which will irritate a lot of Ravens fans, but that was expected with the team having invested so much in Jackson and the run-dominated offense and using first-round draft picks on wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown.
But the most important news from Harbaugh was that the team has already started looking into the team’s medical situation and why there was such an extensive injury list this past season. They’ll look into their offseason training and conditioning program.
That’s accountability, not lip service.
Lip service was what we got during the season when the Ravens kept saying the injuries were reciprocal or a matter of bad luck from year to year. But as the season progressed and the injuries mounted, owner Steve Bisciotti was going to make sure the Ravens investigate procedures and make necessary changes.
So, when Bisciotti, Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta met last week with other front-office executives like Dick Cass and Ozzie Newsome, there was going to be a mandate.
“This year, we just got smashed with them,” said Harbaugh of the injuries. “You can say it’s bad luck. You can say it’s a fluke. I get that, but I don’t feel like we have the luxury to live there. That’s not something that we can say that that’s it. We have to turn over every stone. We have to look at every possible avenue to do the best we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. That’s what we plan on doing. I had a meeting two weeks ago with our performance people.
“We sat in there for four hours and went over every aspect of what we’re doing and what we can do on the football side to try to improve that, from practice schedules, from training camp schedules, from OTAs, from how we train, from how we condition, even how we do our team — all of our modeling in terms of loads and things like that in our team periods and in our individual periods. I’ve talked to a lot of our players about that, because in some ways you don’t change for change’s sake, but sometimes you have to make changes in the way you do things.”
If the Ravens had simply accepted the mounting injuries as circumstance, it might have put them back in a similar position next year. In 2021, they lost starting running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and cornerback Marcus Peters (ankle) to season-ending injuries before Week 1. During the season, injuries forced cornerback Marlon Humphrey (pectoral), safety DeShon Elliott (pectoral/bicep) and Jackson (ankle) to miss extensive time.
But some of these injuries just didn’t happen on the field this season. Some players, like left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and tight end Nick Boyle (knee), were cleared to play but neither lasted more than five games. In the case of Stanley, he played in only the season opener before the ankle injury he suffered last November forced him to the sideline again.
Harbaugh refused to use injuries as an excuse, and he shouldn’t have. The Ravens were 8-3 and still had a chance to make the playoffs until the regular-season finale loss to Pittsburgh. But it’s hard to have a power running game without one of the league’s best offensive tackles and the top run-blocking tight end.
“I do believe that as an organization, we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that our rehab operation is cutting edge and is at the highest level,” said Harbaugh. “That’s another piece of that thing; I talked about turning over every stone, that’s another stone that’s being turned over. That’s more on the other side with the other side of the building, but that’s a big part of it, also.”
Harbaugh also recently met with coach Steve Saunders about the team’s strength and conditioning program. That is a tough situation for Harbaugh because he and Saunders are good friends. Privately, some players have complained that the offseason training is too much and stressful, while others prefer the workouts.
With so many players on the roster, it’s hard to find a common ground. Because of injuries, the Ravens had 75 players participate in at least one game and 47 starters. Like most of his coaching staff, Harbaugh expects Saunders to return next season.
“We try to make it as individualized as we can, and I think that’s between coaches and players to understand what they’re looking for,” said Harbaugh. “There are always guys that like certain things, there are guys that don’t like certain things, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to understand what those things are because these guys are pros. You have guys who train in the offseason. Some do better than others — you understand who those guys are. Some are really good at what they do, and they understand themselves really well.”
Changes will be made in some way or some form going into next season. Entering 2021, the Ravens were expected to be serious challengers for at least a possible AFC championship and maybe a Super Bowl title. A number of things changed. The passing game regressed. The offensive line couldn’t pass block. The pass rush was inconsistent. The defense couldn’t make stops in crunch time.
That’s a long list, but the Ravens could fix a lot of them if they can successfully rehabilitate injured players like Stanley, Dobbins, Edwards and Boyle. Their NFL-worst pass defense should improve if they can get Elliott, Peters and Humphrey back on the field, which means they might be able to get off the field late in the fourth quarter.
As much as Harbaugh talked about deficiencies Monday, the Ravens have already made progress.
They were broken last year, and they are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Accountability is the beginning of solving problems.