Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about firing Marc Trestman and replacing him with Marty Mornhinweg. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
The firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and promotion of quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg might be loudly applauded by Ravens fans, but just how different will the offense be under Mornhinweg?
Coach John Harbaugh has watched the offense bumble its way to the No. 23 ranking in average points and yards thus far, and has an idea what the unit needs to change.
"We need to ramp things up," he said Monday. "We need to do some things differently. We need to look at defenses differently. Whatever those things are, we need to be different than what we've done."
Trestman, who was regarded as a pass-happy play caller, now gives way to Mornhinweg, a West Coast offense disciple who learned under the tutelege of former San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and former Philadelphia Eagles and current Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
Just two years ago, in his final season as the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, Mornhinweg appeared to butt heads philosophically with then-head coach Rex Ryan. With second-year quarterback Geno Smith under center, Ryan expressed a desire to run the ball more often.
Mornhinweg made his preference quite clear. "In this league, you need to pass the ball very efficiently to score points, typically," Mornhinweg said in an NJ.com article published in December 2014. "Now, every game's just a little bit different. But certainly the passing game, you've got to get that going to win on a consistent basis."
That kind of philosophy — which earned the nickname "Air Marty" — might not ingratiate Mornhinweg with a Ravens fan base angered by Trestman's heavy reliance on the passing attack while ignoring the rush offense. That was clear when the entire offense was booed frequently in the second half of Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins. In that half, running backs Terrance West and Javorius "Buck" Allen carried the ball just five times for 38 yards after attempting 10 runs for 75 yards in the opening half.
But Mornhinweg did involve the running game when he helmed the offense for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2006-12. Brian Westbrook was the centerpiece of the offense, gaining 3,486 yards on the ground from 2006 to 2008 and earning his first All-Pro and second Pro Bowl honor in 2007.
Injuries eventually forced Westbrook to give way to LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 3,866 yards between 2009-12 and a career-high 17 touchdowns in 2011 en route to claiming his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolade.
No one is saying that West or Allen or even rookie Kenneth Dixon can replicate what Westbrook and McCoy did under Mornhinweg, but the fact that the coordinator showed a commitment to running the ball when he had Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick at quarterback and DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver suggests he will at least give the current crop of running backs a chance.
Another indicator in favor of the rushing attack is Mornhinweg's preference for zone-blocking schemes that require his backs to make one cut and then burst through a lane. That's the same blocking philosophy that offensive line coach Juan Castillo instructs. Castillo was long the offensive line coach for the Eagles, overlapping with Mornhinweg's time there as offensive coordinator from 2006-10.
While the Ravens' running game might improve just by sheer volume of carries, Mornhinweg has made his name by using the aforementioned West Coast style popularized under the late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.
In Mornhinweg's offense, every passing route is meticulously linked to the quarterback's dropbacks. Timing and completion percentage are highly valued, with check-down, high-percentage options available on every pass play.
Mornhinweg has traditionally placed an emphasis on going deep. In 2010 and 2011, the Eagles were in the Top 10 in pass plays of 20 yards or more. In 2010, they were No. 1.
That should be a relief for receivers Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, and Breshad Perriman, whose speed was underutilized in Trestman's system that seemed fearful of stretching a defense at the expense of a pass breakup or a turnover.
"If you ask me, that's what I like to do," Wallace said last week of testing an opponent's secondary downfield. "So I'm always going to say 'Yeah, we should take more deep shots.' But at the end of the day, just because you're taking deep shots doesn't mean you're connecting on them, and you've got to be smart. You're just giving your quarterback more shots to get hit when you have to take those. So you've got to take everything into account. But we'll get it done."
Although Mornhinweg's system floundered under the young, inexperienced passer Geno Smith with the Jets, Mornhinweg enjoyed more success with veteran quarterbacks in San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Harbaugh said he does not expect Mornhinweg to overhaul the entire offensive system.
"We're in a good position to have a guy with that kind of experience here, and it's experience in this system — basically the West Coast terminology," Harbaugh said. "He fits right in. I know there will be some things that he'll tweak, but the basic system is not going to change. The way we adjust some routes, maybe, or the way we organize our protections or some of our play-action passes, that's all the stuff that Marty's got to do the way he believes they should be done. But the basic system, terminology, the way we operate is the same."
End zone: Harbaugh did not provide an update on the following injured players Monday: wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (ankle), rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), right tackle Rick Wagner (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring), and cornerback Sheldon Price (hamstring). Asked if there is a long-term concern with any of the injuries, he replied, "We just have to see. There's MRIs being run and stuff like that. I don't think so, but you never know." … Cornerback Shareece Wright was a sudden deactivation just 90 minutes before Sunday's loss. Wright had not been listed on the team's injury report because Wright woke up Sunday morning with back spasms, Harbaugh said. "He woke up, his back was locked up," Harbaugh said. "They tried to get him out there, they couldn't loosen it up. He couldn't go. Pretty positive outlook I would hope this week."