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Friday, January 21, 2011

What the hell...

The Ravens sacked themselves in the loss to the Steelers. It was another one of those kinds of games where fans say "they beat themselves" and not "we lost to the better team".

It's been almost a week since the Ravens ripped my heart out of my chest by losing to the Steelers to end their 2010 season. So I guess I might as well get it over with and move on.

Although I still put the 2006 home loss to the Colts above this one, I do believe this was the hardest Ravens game to watch in franchise history. The first half saw the Ravens dominate the Steelers, go into halftime up 21-7, and the second half saw them give the game right back to Pittsburgh, ultimately losing 31-24.

And yet it was a game much like the Ravens other losses this season: they were unable to gel on offense when it mattered, the defense couldn't get off the field on third down by allowing some big plays at crucial times, and the penalties called on the Ravens were at times questionable to downright horrible (pass interference on Josh Wilson, holding on Marcus Smith), not to mention some penalties that should have been called on the Steelers, and weren't (Chris Kemoeatu's late hit and Ike Taylor's head butt on TJ Houshmandzadeh).

But in the end, the Ravens have no one to blame but themselves. They gained just 125 yards of total offense. In the second half Ray Rice fumbled, Joe Flacco threw an interception, and Matt Birk fumbled a snap. All of these mistakes allowed Pittsburgh to close the gap and win the game. Then there were key drops by Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh -- two all-pro wide receivers who were brought in to help take this team to the Super Bowl -- who ultimately contributed to the loss.

In the week since the loss, fans have been busy laying blame on just about everyone, from John Harbaugh down to the waterboy. I can understand the frustration after such an emotionally draining loss to a hated division rival, but fans need to get a hold of themselves. Yes, this loss was hard to swallow, and will be until the 2011 season begins, but fans need to also look at the bigger picture.

The playoffs are all about the hot team. Look no further than the Green Bay Packers or New York Jets. If you keep making the playoffs, which the Ravens have done in all of Harbaugh's 3 years as head coach, you give yourself a chance to get hot and make a run...much like the Ravens did in 2008. So while there is some cause for concern after such a tough loss, there is a bright side to things, as difficult as it may be to see.

It appears that Cam Cameron will be back as offensive coordinator next year, which is a big part of concern for many fans. Cameron did a poor job calling plays this season, and no one would shed a tear if he were let go. I really don't know why it's been reported that he will be kept, but I guess I have to defer to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh on this one. Another key factor in retaining Cameron is the uncertainty that hangs over the 2011 season. With a hold out and late start to the season a possibility, maybe the Ravens want to keep as much consistency as they can on offense, even though it will be Cam Cameron who is calling the plays.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Gregg Mattison left the Ravens to take the same position at Michigan, so the Ravens promoted former secondary coach Chuck Pagano to defensive coordinator. Like Cameron, Mattison was heavily blamed for the defensive struggles, especially in the second half of games. Pagano is said to be a very aggressive and well liked coach, who will try to maximize turnovers, something that should work with the current make-up on defense. So Mattison's departure could be a blessing, because it had been reported that he would also be returning in 2011.

Moving forward, I would like to see the Ravens upgrade their offensive line, and if Jared Gaither does in deed return to Baltimore, that would be a big step in the right direction. The OL allowed the second most sacks in the NFL and had trouble opening running lanes for Ray Rice and Willis McGahee for much of the season. The Ravens may also want to consider moving Michael Oher back to the right side of the line since he had an unimpressive season as the left tackle.

I think we can also agree that the Ravens need a deep threat in their passing game. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh are very similar receivers who aren't known for their speed. So with a Mike Wallace or DeSean Jackson kind of down field threat, the Ravens offense should become much more dynamic and dangerous.

On defense, the Ravens should continue to look at pass rushers and linebackers. They did a poor job pressuring the QB for most of the season and were unable to stop the run like they have done in the past. In the secondary, it should help that Dominique Foxworth will return after missing the entire 2010 season, and if Ed Reed decides to return, a Pagano-lead defense should be exciting to watch with the likes of Josh Wilson, Chris Carr and Ladarius Webb all having turned in solid seasons for a unit that was projected to be the Ravens weakness on defense and turned out to be one of its strengths, especially once Reed returned.

So that's it.

The Ravens 2010 season will always remain a very sweet and sour mix of emotions for fans. A 12-4 record is not something to overlook, but losing to the Steelers in the playoffs the way they did has the ability to erase all the positives that happened before. Throw in the offense never clicking and living up to its potential and the defense falling from a dominant unit to just an above average one, and many Ravens fans will have you believe that the Ravens were 4-12.

But with a solid draft and offseason, the Ravens can reload for another shot at the Super Bowl in 2011.

Just keep repeating that as you watch the Steelers, and not the Ravens, hosting the AFC Championship Game against the Jets this weekend.

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