Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco turned 32 Jan. 16. Happy birthday, Flacco.
Now what does Flacco's birthday and the notion his career clock is ticking have to do with Rex Ryan returning to Baltimore to make the Ravens' defense great again?
It has everything to do with developing a true winning philosophy. A key component of which, in the current state of the NFL, is honestly appraising the majority of the talent on hand as well as knowing what your identity is and whether that jibes with what makes you good.
Bear with us and we'll connect the dots between a Rex Ryan defense and how the Ravens should approach offense in a bit.
Let's start with the quarterback. But first, let's be clear: this is not to tear down Flacco or suggest he should be dumped or traded. Those ideas are counterproductive to the stated need for honest self-assessment.
Despite head coach John Harbaugh's declaration the Ravens need to run the ball more, it's as clear as can be that Harbaugh and the offensive brain trust feel the direction the league is going, combined with Flacco's arm, makes passing the Ravens' first weapon of choice.
In 2016, Flacco threw for 4,317 yards, which is more than any of his previous eight seasons, 331 more than his previous high in 2014. But with that added yardage came a lot more of Flacco being the centerpiece of the offense. Flacco recorded 672 pass attempts to be exact, which highlights the problem with the Ravens' offense.
In Flacco's best four seasons, 2009-2012, the team averaged 515 pass attempts per season. Flacco's touchdown-to-interception numbers also show less Flacco can actually be more beneficial.
In those same four seasons, Flacco threw 88 touchdowns compared to 44 interceptions. This past season with increased yardage, Flacco threw 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
In fact, if you take out one season from the past four Flacco campaigns -- when Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator in 2014 and Flacco threw a career-high 27 touchdowns but was intercepted just 12 times -- and look at the other three recent seasons, the trend is downright alarming: 53 touchdowns versus 49 interceptions.
Accordingly, the one year Kubiak was here, the team went 10-6. If that record is removed from the team's 31-33 record during the past four years, the win-loss total drops to 21-27.
So, if I am not calling for Flacco to summarily be dismissed from the team, just what am I saying?
I am saying any honest self-assessment of the totality of the Ravens starts with the notion that Flacco needs to manage a game more, and the Ravens need to run the ball more often.
If that sounds a bit more like the job description of Trent Dilfer back in the second half of the 2000 season, then so be it. Because, at 32, Flacco can still have a couple more successful seasons, but the idea Flacco is going to suddenly rise up and play like he did during the 2012 Super Bowl run is sheer folly. His receiving corps has never fully recovered from the decision to allow Anquan Boldin to leave over a paltry $2 million.
Boldin was a "rebounder" receiver, who, when the ball was thrown his way, was going to figure a way to leverage his way to catching Flacco's passes. Think Dennis Rodman with pass-catching gloves.
In order for a team to win with a highly disciplined offense, one that would eschew the big-play mentality and try to use the big plays when the opposing defense is somewhat lulled into a false sense of security, you need to do a few things significantly better than the Ravens have done during the past few years.
Now, what could Rex Ryan do for a Ravens team willing to return to power football?
Power football means playing defense at an elite level, and getting the opposing offense to turn the ball over, two areas in which the Ravens have just not been good enough in the years since their last Super Bowl championship.
When Ryan was fired by the Buffalo Bills, his number should have been on speed dial for owner Steve Bisciotti. That it has to be on his speed dial and not Harbaugh's is a whole different story. Harbaugh's role as alpha dog has its positives, and it surely has its negatives.
If that call had zero chance to be made by Harbaugh, then it was incumbent upon Bisciotti, like he did with Kubiak, to make the strong suggestion that the Ravens at least discuss what it would be like to invite Ryan back.
With Ryan in that room, with all of his bluster and perhaps even a bit of the insufferable nature he held as the alpha dog of the Jets and Bills, yes, it might make things a bit more tense for Harbaugh than being Dean Pees' boss. But so be it. The aggressiveness Ryan would bring back to an already improved defense and the swagger he'd add are the all-important assets this team needs right now.
Pees' players like and respect him. Ryan's love him and run through walls for him.
We are about to have a President who promised to make America great again. It sure appears the Ravens have muffed on the perfect opportunity to make their defense great again. My fear is, without a bold move, the Flacco-era in Baltimore won't end much differently than it has the past few seasons.
Issue 229: January 2017