Baltimore Ravens new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talks about his only job was being a player coach. (Baltimore Sun video)
It will be hard for the Ravens not to improve on their incoherent offensive performance last Sunday against the Washington Redskins, but it might be premature to assume that you're going to see a dramatically different attack — and dramatically different results — against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
History might argue otherwise.
New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has had only a handful of practices to put his imprint on the offense that scored just 10 points Sunday and didn't score a single point after the first play of the second quarter. Marc Trestman was fired and Mornhinweg was promoted to inject new life into the offensive scheme, but that probably isn't going to happen overnight.
It certainly didn't the last time John Harbaugh decided that he needed to make a similar in-season adjustment. He fired Cam Cameron in 2012 after the Ravens suffered a frustrating comeback loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field and turned the offense over to former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, but the early returns were not good.
The Ravens faced the Denver Broncos the following week at M&T Bank Stadium and scored just three points in the first three quarters of a lopsided 34-17 defeat. That was the game in which the offense produced just 56 net yards on the ground and Joe Flacco threw an ill-fated pass at the end of the first half that was intercepted and returned 98 yards for a game-breaking touchdown.
The good news, of course, was that the Ravens soundly defeated the Giants the following week to clinch the AFC North title and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Clearly, that decision was a good one, as was the controversial call former coach Brian Billick made when he replaced offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and took over the play chart during the 2006 season. The Ravens went on to win 13 games and the division title that year. They also won their first game after the switch, but Billick made the move at the start of the team's bye week, so the Ravens had a lot more time to adjust.
Harbaugh wasn't making any predictions when he met with reporters on Wednesday, except to say that he expected the transition to be smooth and was hopeful the results would be evident right away.
"That's the plan," he said. "It's not like we're changing the whole thing. We're running the same offense. The terminology is the same. I'm sure Marty has changed a couple of terms for his play-calling. Sometimes you have some things ingrained in as a coach. It's interesting. He was really concerned about that. He had two or three conversations with me about it – this term, that term. It's only five or six things. I'm like, 'Just do it. Just change it. These guys will get it.' "
Flacco, whose frustration with the team's offensive ineffectiveness was obvious last Sunday, expressed confidence this week that the Ravens would show immediate improvement under Mornhinweg, but conceded that "it's not like you can change the world overnight."
For that to happen, the Ravens will have to do a lot more than adjust to a change in coaching philosophy. They'll also have to overcome injuries that have limited the practice time of several key offensive performers, including receiver Steve Smith Sr., Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and offensive tackles Rick Wagner and Ronnie Stanley.
The coaching switch was made for a variety of reasons, but everything that was said afterward seemed to point to the notion that the Ravens were having an identity crisis. They got off to a great start against the Redskins and then abandoned a successful rushing attack. They hurt themselves with penalties and bad decisions. They have not been able to give Flacco enough time to throw.
Tight end Dennis Pitta pretty much summed it up.
"We were in kind of a bad place,'' he said Wednesday. "It didn't seem like we were getting out of it. Hopefully, this will spark us."
What everyone seemed to talk about was the visible energy and attitude that Mornhinweg brings to the job, which is quite in contrast to Trestman's almost professorial persona. That is something that could be reflected right away in the way that Mornhinweg calls the plays and attempts to dissect a seemingly vulnerable Giants pass defense.
That stuff matters in the amped-up world of professional football, but it won't fix a banged-up, mix-and-match offensive line and it won't improve the team's vertical passing game just because Mornhinweg figures to go down field more often than Trestman.
The coaching change was simply a spark. We'll find out on Sunday whether the offense suddenly catches fire or needs more time to adjust to the new voice that will be piped into Flacco's helmet. Either way, everyone seemed to agree that something had to change.
"I think he brings an energy to our offense that was lacking,'' Pitta said. "It's still early and time will certainly tell, but we feel good about our potential, offensively."