Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about firing Marc Trestman and replacing him with Marty Mornhinweg. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
By now, you know that offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, like Cam Cameron in 2012, was fired a day after a regular-season loss to the Washington Redskins.
That's a coincidence, but the timing does speak to the importance of these next two road games at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants and Jets. It would have been easier for Ravens coach John Harbaugh to wait out the next two weeks to see if the offense shows some improvements, and if it didn't, make the move during the Week Eight bye week.
The bye would have given Marty Mornhinweg additional time to study the offense and make improvements and alterations. However, Harbaugh obviously didn't think the situation could wait, and you can't blame him.
Back-to-back home losses have marred the Ravens' 3-0 start. With two games each after the bye against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, and also games remaining against the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles – teams that are a combined 11-3 – the Ravens need to win these final two games before the bye to give themselves some margin of error in the second half.
Winning one out of two, which would send them into the bye week with a 4-3 record, wouldn't be a disaster, but it would make a playoff run challenging. Losing both and heading into the bye with a 3-4 record and four straight losses would be nearly impossible to overcome.
Those expecting an immediate jolt from the Trestman firing and reminiscing about the Joe Flacco-led Super Bowl run after Cameron was fired and Jim Caldwell took over offensive coordinator duties probably remember that the first game following the change didn't go so well. Flacco went just 20-of-40 for 254 yards in a 34-17 home loss to the Denver Broncos, and he threw two touchdown passes and one interception, which was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Chris Harris. The Broncos led 31-3 at one point of that game, which was arguably the low point of the memorable 2012 season. The high point came about a month later when the Ravens revenged the loss to the Broncos, and followed with victories over the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl.
Just an outsider's opinion, but if I'm Mornhinweg, the first thing I'm doing is getting to work on fixing Flacco's footwork. It doesn't take a quarterback guru to see that Flacco has regressed in that area, and isn't stepping into enough throws. Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who tutored Flacco during his best regular season in 2014, used footwork as the way to teach quarterbacks how to read defenses.
He wanted Flacco to go through progressions with his feet, not with his eyes, believing that was the best way for the quarterback to get the ball out quicker and be more decisive. To that end, Flacco and Tyrod Taylor did drills on their footwork to start every practice under Kubiak. We don't get to watch much of practice and the quarterbacks do some things indoors before coming out, so I can't say for sure whether the quarterbacks still do those drills. Poor pass protection influences this, but Flacco doesn't seem to be stepping up in the pocket and making tough throws as much as he has in the past.
The post-Trestman fallout and the offense's transition to Mornhinweg will dominate the headlines this week. However, there are three other things the Ravens will need to figure out heading into Sunday's game against the Giants:
How to align the offensive line: It isn’t clear whether left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be able to play Sunday after missing the past two games with a foot injury, and right tackle Rick Wagner had the look of a player who could miss a bit of time. Their status will be clearer on Wednesday and Thursday. If they can’t go, does Marshal Yanda stay at right tackle, which ultimately weakens the Ravens on the inside? Would James Hurst fare better at right tackle than he did at left? And if you can’t trust him as a fill-in, what exactly is his role on the team? The Ravens will have some decisions to make at the tackle position, where they’re extremely thin.
What to do with Devin Hester Sr.: The return specialist fumbled in back-to-back games, losing one of them. Then Sunday, he made a couple of costly decisions, failing to run up and field two fourth-quarter punts and costing the Ravens yards in field position. Hester is a future Hall of Famer, so I don’t say this lightly, but he doesn’t seem to be playing with much confidence. Can the Ravens afford to keep running him out there when field position or possession in general is so precious for a struggling offense? And if they let Hester go, who returns punts?
Who is or isn’t available?: Harbaugh predictably didn’t make any health-related announcements yesterday and I wouldn’t expect any all week. But the Ravens are dealing with health questions about numerous starters, including wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. (ankle) and Mike Wallace (ribs), offensive tackles Stanley (foot) and Wagner (thigh), middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and cornerbacks Sheldon Price (thigh) and Shareece Wright (back). All seven of those players have started at least one game for the team this season and most of them have been every-week starters. The Ravens need to know what they’ll have come Sunday and get other guys ready.
One of the team's biggest disappointments through the first five games has been 2015 fourth-round linebacker Za'Darius Smith. Smith finished his rookie season with 3 ½ sacks in his last three games and he looked to be in fine form early in training camp. However, despite playing 151 defensive snaps – two fewer than Terrell Suggs – Smith has six total tackles and no sacks in five games. He always plays hard and he's gotten a few quarterback hits and hurries along the way, but he's not made the impact that many expected he would. Perhaps, an early-season ankle injury has slowed him.
Speaking of outside linebackers, you'd have to think that rookies Kamalei Correa and Matthew Judon will be active Sunday if Mosley can't play, and Albert McClellan moves to middle linebacker. The Ravens would need Judon as an extra outside linebacker in McClellan's spot, and they'd probably want Correa as another option both outside and inside. Correa appeared to have a difficult week of practice last week and he seemed to get an encouraging pep talk from owner Steve Bisciotti on the field after one of the workouts. He then was a healthy scratch for the first time. This is a big week of practice for him.