Quick Links

Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Don't look now, but Joe Flacco is suddenly the Ravens' $80 million problem.

Yes, Flacco has proved he can be – dare we say it? – elite. He has a Super Bowl ring and shiny Super Bowl MVP car to show for it. But he hasn't played at anything close to an elite level for at least two years, and that's a huge problem for a team that will commit roughly 15 percent of its salary cap to that one player.

And reading between the lines of Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, Flacco is the biggest reason embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will return in 2017.

At the news conference on Tuesday, owner Steve Bisciotti said what anyone who watched the Ravens in 2016 was thinking: "We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past."

"We need to get more out of Joe," Bisciotti added. "Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen."

One way, apparently, is by continuing to work with Mornhinweg.

Many observers expected Mornhinweg to be jettisoned after the season, as the Ravens showed little offensive improvement after Mornhinweg took over for the fired Marc Trestman.  But Harbaugh announced last week that Mornhinweg would return.

Even Bisciotti admitted in so many words that the Ravens offense this fall was a mess. The running game disappeared, and the Ravens had no semblance of an offensive identity. Flacco threw a team-record 672 passes – one shy of the league lead – but the Ravens ranked 26th in passing yards per play.

"I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times," Bisciotti said. "It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it."

Well here's an answer: They got away from it because Mornhinweg decided to get away from it. He's the one calling the plays. And he'll be doing so again next season.

When asked on Tuesday about the decision to bring Mornhinweg back for another season, Bisciotti said tersely, "My quarterback seems happy with it."

So there it is: The Ravens are all in on Mornhinweg because their $80 million quarterback wants it that way. After all, there probably isn't anyone in the Castle – other than Bisciotti – with more job security than Flacco.

He has a salary cap hit of $24.5 million this year, with more than $47 million in dead money tied up in a contract that still includes more than $80 million in base salary through 2021. Translation: He isn't going anywhere, so if he wants Mornhinweg to return, Mornhinweg returns.

On the one hand, that's understandable: Flacco has been through a revolving door of coordinators, and hasn't even been with Mornhinweg for one full season. Flacco will have an entire offseason of workouts, which he didn't have last year as he  recovered from knee surgery. Mornhinweg has an entire offseason as the coordinator, which he didn't have last year.

Fair point.

But the Ravens are losing one of their go-to receivers in Steve Smith Sr. They could lose the starting right tackle and fullback – a key cog in Mornhinweg's passing game – to free agency. They could lose Flacco's top target in tight end Dennis Pitta as a cap casualty.

Even if most of those players return, Flacco still has to get right. He needs to make better decisions. He needs to fix himself mechanically and get rid of the back-foot floater throws. He needs to get on the same page as his receivers. And oh by the way, the Ravens need at least one more legitimate receiver. General manager Ozzie Newsome said as much on Tuesday.

In other words, there are a whole lot of question marks going into 2017 for the Ravens offense.  The notion that Flacco and Mornhinweg will somehow have this offense purring next fall seems, frankly, wildly optimistic.

But the Ravens have about 80 million reasons to hope and pray that happens.

MORE RAVENS: Ravens owner wants more out of Flacco

Quick Links

Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

And then there were four.

Four teams remain in the hunt for Super Bowl LI, and this weekend's games showed exactly what it takes to survive and advance this time of year. They also illustrated, quite clearly, how the current Ravens simply don't rise up to that level.

Here are two ways in particular:

* Strong quarterback play

Aaron Rodgers needed less than a minute to move his team into position for a game-winning field goal against Dallas.

Then again, the Cowboys' Dak Prescott needed less than a minute to move his team into position to tie the game moments earlier.

Did the Ravens offense under Joe Flacco this year ever appear capable of pulling off such a feat?

Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns without an interception as the Falcons rolled past Seattle. He averaged 9.1 yards per pass play, above their league-best regular-season average of 8.8. That's what an efficient, potent passing game looks like. The Ravens ranked 26th this year, averaging 6.04 yards per pass play.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft 1.0

* Playmakers

When Dallas got inside the Packers' 10-yard line in the final four minutes, trailing 28-20, was there any doubt that the ball was going to Dez Bryant? The Packers had to know it. They just couldn't stop it. Bryant reached up with his 6-2, 220-pound frame and hauled in the inside slant that made it 28-26, and then Prescott scored on a quarterback draw for a two-point conversion to tie the game.

Did the Ravens this year ever have such a proven, go-to target near the goal line? If they did, they probably wouldn't have ranked 20th in red zone percentage this year and relied so heavily on kicker Justin Tucker. Too many field goals instead of touchdowns doomed this team.

Aaron Rodgers had to improvise, then made a great throw with an even better catch by Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal. Could the Ravens have pulled off that play this year?

When the Steelers were trying to close out their win over the Chiefs, they opted to throw a pass, knowing an incompletion would stop the clock and possibly give the ball back to the Chiefs. It carried some risk, but Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a game-clinching first down.

The Steelers could have opted to run the ball with Le'Veon Bell, who piled up 170 yards on 30 carries. That's what a commitment to the run looks like.

Brown, Bryant and Julian Edelman all finished with more than 100 receiving yards.

Each of these teams has playmakers, and they all stepped up.

MORE RAVENS: Ray Lewis tells Tom Brady to quit complaining

Quick Links

AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has created a new firestorm heading into the Patriots-Steelers AFC championship game, by posting a Facebook Live video from the locker room in which coach Mike Tomlin referred to the Patriots as “a--h----s”.

Tomlin was giving his postgame address to the team after the Steelers’ 18-16 playoff victory over the Chiefs.

While Tomlin was speaking, Brown was streaming the locker room scene on Facebook, unbeknownst to Tomlin.

The coach talked about the Patriots having a head start in preparation, because they won their divisional game Saturday night, while the Steelers-Chiefs game did not end until late Sunday night in Kansas City.

“When you get to this point in the journey, man, not a lot needs to be said,” Tomlin said in the video, which Brown has since deleted from social media.

“Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We just spotted these a--h---s a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f---king morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their a--. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.

“Keep a low profile, and let’s get ready to ball like this up again here in a few days and be right back at it. That’s our story.”

Well, it’s a little late for the Steelers to keep a low profile now, after Brown’s video went viral.

This is why most coaches don’t like cameras in the locker room immediately after games. The statements are candid. The concept of what is said in the locker room, staying in the locker room, is lost.

Now Tomlin, Brown, and the Steelers will have to deal with the fallout. But it will only raise the AFC showdown, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

RELATED: STEVE SMITH'S BEST TRASH TALK