Pressure’s on for Harbaugh, Ravens after playoff drought
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Five years removed from a Super Bowl championship, the Baltimore Ravens bring a sense of urgency into the 2018 season.
Much has happened — little of it good — since general Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco teamed to beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in January 2013.
Since then, the Ravens have gone 40-40, had two winning seasons and reached the playoffs once. Baltimore was on the brink of earning a wild-card berth last December before a last-minute defeat at home against Cincinnati put an abrupt end to a 9-7 season.
So now, Harbaugh is being pressed to reverse the team’s recent downturn. He isn’t necessary done if Baltimore doesn’t reach the playoffs, yet there’s no guarantee he will survive the inevitable fallout.
“I’m not going to give a ‘playoff or bust’ edict to my coach,” owner Steve Bisciotti said. ”(But) he’s under as much pressure, probably, than he’s ever been in his life. I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of this season.”
Newsome will be handing the reins to assistant GM Eric DeCosta in 2019, so the only GM the Ravens have ever had is doing his best to go out with a splash. Newsome signed several free agent receivers to help out the 33-year-old Flacco, who struggled last season and now has an eager rookie chasing him on the depth chart.
There’s also a new defensive coordinator in Don Martindale, whose goal is to make the unit representative of the region.
“I think this defense is starting to take along the personality of the city, like all the great Ravens defenses do, from Dundalk to West Baltimore to Carroll County,” Martindale said. “I like how we’re coming together. I like how we’re not flinching.”
No need to be tentative. Not now. Without a doubt, the Ravens will be in full attack mode in their effort to reach the postseason.
Some things to know about the 2018 Ravens:
First-round pick Lamar Jackson could be the Ravens quarterback of the future, but he most certainly is not the quarterback of right now.
Flacco has been the starter since 2008, his rookie season and Harbaugh’s first as Baltimore’s coach.
Jackson won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville and is deft on his feet, but Baltimore is past the point of letting a rookie QB gain experience on the job.
Jackson will make the team, but the big question is: Will Robert Griffin III also land on the 53-man roster?
“That’s one that’s going to go right to the wire,” Harbaugh said, “and it will be dependent on a lot of factors.”
PLENTY OF TARGETS
Flacco will be working with a rebuilt receiving group after struggling last season getting the ball downfield.
Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman repeatedly failed to get separation last year, one big reason why Flacco finished with a meager 5.72 yards per attempt average.
So Newsome attacked the free agent market, signing Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown.
“All of them have had just an excellent camp,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “All three of them have stayed healthy, or reasonably healthy. They’re all three very smart guys.”
Brown gives the Ravens the deep threat they’ve been missing since Torrey Smith in 2013. Crabtree is solid in the middle of the field, and Snead has good hands and big-play potential.
In a league that’s built for passing, the Ravens have always been about establishing the run.
With Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst and 345-pound Orlando Brown Jr. on the line, Flacco won’t be reluctant to give the ball to Alex Collins.
Collins rushed for 973 yards last year and Javorius Allen added 591.
NO JIMMY SMITH
The Ravens must play the first four games of the season without standout cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Playing without Smith is nothing new — he missed the last four games last year with a torn Achilles tendon and has played in 16 games only twice in seven seasons.
“We feel confident in who we have in the personnel,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We’re just looking forward to getting guys on the field to see how they perform out there.”
In addition to Smith, the Ravens will start the season without tight end Hayden Hurst, who had foot surgery, and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery).
Hurst, Baltimore’s top draft pick, will miss around three weeks and Henry will be sidelined “a few weeks,” according to Harbaugh.
Hurst was expected to take over for departed tight end Benjamin Watson, who led Baltimore with 61 catches last year.
Henry played in 14 games last year before a thigh injury ended his season in November. He had 32 tackles and 3½ sacks.