Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (2024)

Ravens fans are still processing their intense disappointment with the team’s letdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. In their season-ending news conference, coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta said the loss hurt them too, but they see a team that’s still on a winning course as they begin an offseason filled with difficult roster decisions.

Here are three takeaways from Harbaugh and DeCosta’s 42-minute question-and-answer session.

The Ravens brain trust does not see a failed process behind the team’s playoff disappointments

If exasperated fans were hoping to hear Harbaugh and DeCosta speak in terms of crisis management, Friday’s news conference was not for them.

Harbaugh conceded that the Ravens did not run as much as planned against the Chiefs after falling behind early and said he sees validity in fan frustrations with the Ravens’ execution in recent elimination games, going back to their divisional round loss against the Tennessee Titans four years ago.

But he did not betray any dissatisfaction with the preparations that led to those defeats or any feeling that his team lost its identity with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

“It was the same team. It was the same guys. It’s the game plan that was devised against that particular team that day,” he said. “But we didn’t play better than the team we played. They had the better game plan. They executed their game plan better. They made some great throws, some great catches, a few great runs. … We didn’t come up with those great plays. In that sense, it’s not the same team. But in the sense of the effort, the preparation, what we bring to the table schematically, it was exactly the same team. It was just a different result.

“Every single team is going to have that feeling after losing in the playoffs. I feel the same way. I’m telling you, I’m heartbroken that we didn’t win that game at home.”

That answer won’t be entirely satisfying for fans who might have accepted the loss more calmly if the Ravens had at least put their best foot forward. Plenty of skeptics believe the Ravens will win a bunch of games again next year only to run into the same wall come January.

Harbaugh and DeCosta painted a very different picture and said owner Steve Bisciotti is equally optimistic about the path forward.

“I think Steve was extremely happy that we could bring an AFC championship game to Baltimore, and I think he was just really happy with the season in general,” DeCosta said. “He’s a huge draftnik, so I think he’s starting to look at that. It’s always hard for all of us. We all love what we do, and we want to see this thing finish in a great way, but it didn’t. That’s a challenge for everybody, but we move on, and we get excited.”

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (1)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (2)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (4)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta, not shown, hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (5)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (6)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (7)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (8)

    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager, Eric DeCosta hold an end of season press conference in Owings Mills, Md. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

  • Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (9)

    Ravens coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager Eric DeCosta, right, see a team that's still on a winning course as they begin an offseason filled with difficult roster decisions. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

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Their affirming words extended to quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose record in playoff starts dropped to 2-4 with his subpar performance against the Chiefs.

“I had a great conversation with Lamar yesterday,” Harbaugh said. “We were both in lockstep, already thinking the same way.”

He noted that the franchise quarterback is just coming off his first season in coordinator Todd Monken’s offense and will have an even greater role in crafting the attack going forward.

“Lamar Jackson is a phenomenal success,” Harbaugh said. “There’s nobody better in this league, especially nobody better for the Baltimore Ravens, for this organization, for this city. I’m excited about taking this offense to the next level next year, an opportunity to pick up where we are and dig deeper with what we can give him. It’s like setting up a car; we’ve got to build a car. Lamar’s the driver, and he’s got to be involved in the set-up of the car, even more.”

Nowhere in his words did he evince any concern that Jackson will never break his pattern of underwhelming playoff performances. No one could have expected different from Harbaugh. Jackson did deliver a terrific season that will almost certainly earn him his second NFL Most Valuable Player Award. And the Ravens have already built everything around him, both financially and schematically, so there’s really nowhere to go but forward.

Eric DeCosta offered only the slightest hints to his plans for the team’s free agents

DeCosta was asked about most of the key players approaching free agency — more than 20 Ravens in all — but set the tone for his responses early, nodding back to his protracted extension negotiations with Jackson last year.

“I learned a lesson,” he said. “It’s beneficial to just not talk about things. There is a value sometimes in not eally showing your cards.”

So he didn’t say much, whether the subject was defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, linebacker Patrick Queen or right guard Kevin Zeitler.

Asked about the possibility of using the franchise tag to keep Madubuike off the market, he said, “Justin had a great year, as did Patrick Queen. … We’ll have a good plan in place for those guys.”

A few minutes later, he said Queen has “put himself in a great position,” the type of comment he’d typically make about a player who will be too expensive to re-sign, much as guard Ben Powers was after last season.

Meanwhile, he said he spoke to Zeitler last week, seeming to indicate that re-signing the dependable veteran might be a priority, if we’re reading between the lines.

He gave no indication of whether he plans to pick up fifth-year options on the team’s 2021 first-round draft picks, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. He and Harbaugh did push back on the notion that Bateman lacks chemistry with Jackson, with both predicting a 2024 breakout from the talented pass catcher after he banked a season’s worth of healthy reps this year.

In sum, good luck guessing how the 2024 Ravens will look different from the 2023 edition based on anything DeCosta said Friday.

The Ravens have great faith in their coaching and front office succession plan

Harbaugh took a risk promoting 31-year old Zach Orr to fill Mike Macdonald’s boat-sized shoes at defensive coordinator. He had more experienced in-house options in Anthony Weaver, Chris Hewitt and Dennard Wilson, who left to take over the Titans’ defense. But he stuck to the same approach that led him to hire Macdonald two years ago, betting on a sharp, charismatic young linebackers coach who grew up in the Ravens’ system.

“There’s no reason not to put Zach in that position in my mind, right now,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’ll do a great job, and I also think he’ll do a great job because of the support he’s going to get from two veteran coaches who are great coaches, Chris Hewitt and Anthony Weaver.”

Harbaugh acknowledged Orr will have to “work through” becoming the team’s defensive play caller. Macdonald had done it at Michigan the year before he returned to the Ravens as the league’s youngest defensive coordinator in 2022. But Orr comes with the credibility of having played linebacker for the Ravens until 2016 and of having learned the art of coaching from Macdonald with some of the same players he’ll coordinate next season.

Harbaugh’s choices at defensive coordinator have generally worked out, and he had no reason not to trust his judgment on Orr. If the Ravens hold on to Weaver, who’s still a candidate to take over the Miami Dolphins’ defense, all the better.

“Those guys are going to build another great defense, and I’m going to be in the middle of it,” Harbaugh said. “But I’m going to lean on those guys and trust those guys and empower those guys to build a great defense. Zach is super-talented, super-enthusiastic, he’s very smart, he’s prepared for that job. He’s in the middle of the defense; I think when you’re a linebackers coach, that’s an advantage, because you understand the whole defense.”

Joe Hortiz’s departure to become general manager of the Los Angeles Chargers did not create as much angst as the loss of Macdonald, but DeCosta said he’ll miss the man who has been his closest lieutenant in draft preparations for more than a decade. It’s a bittersweet parting, because Hortiz had deserved a chance to run his own team for years.

At the same time, DeCosta expressed absolute confidence that the executives coming up behind Hortiz — assistant director of player personnel Mark Azevedo, director of college scouting David Blackburn — will thrive along with veteran director of pro personnel George Kokinas.

“I really valued Joe as an evaluator and as a person, as a friend, but I think we have the people to take care of the process for us,” he said.

When it comes to home growing coaches and future general managers, the Ravens have not lost their aura, as we saw from the rest of the league’s interest in poaching their people over the last few weeks.

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Ravens' Playoff Disappointments and Team's Outlook

In their season-ending news conference, coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta addressed the disappointment of the Ravens' performance in the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs. While fans may have hoped for a discussion on crisis management, Harbaugh and DeCosta did not see the team's playoff disappointments as a result of a failed process [[1]].

Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens did not run as much as planned against the Chiefs due to falling behind early. He also recognized the validity of fan frustrations with the team's execution in recent elimination games, including their divisional round loss against the Tennessee Titans four years ago. However, Harbaugh did not express dissatisfaction with the preparations that led to those defeats or a belief that the team lost its identity. He emphasized that the game plan devised against the Chiefs was the determining factor and that the Chiefs executed their game plan better [[1]].

While some fans may find this answer unsatisfying, Harbaugh and DeCosta painted a different picture. They expressed optimism about the team's future and stated that owner Steve Bisciotti shares this optimism. They believe that the Ravens will continue to be successful and that the disappointment of the playoff loss will not hinder their progress [[1]].

Lamar Jackson's Performance and Future

Coach Harbaugh had a conversation with quarterback Lamar Jackson following the playoff loss. Harbaugh expressed confidence in Jackson's abilities and stated that he is excited about taking the offense to the next level in the upcoming season. Harbaugh emphasized that Jackson is a phenomenal success and the best fit for the Baltimore Ravens. He also mentioned that Jackson will have a greater role in crafting the team's offensive strategy going forward [[1]].

Harbaugh did not express concern about Jackson's pattern of underwhelming playoff performances. Instead, he highlighted Jackson's success during the regular season, which is likely to earn him his second NFL Most Valuable Player Award. The Ravens have built their team around Jackson both financially and schematically, indicating their commitment to his future success [[1]].

Plans for Free Agents and Roster Decisions

General manager Eric DeCosta was asked about the team's plans for key players approaching free agency. However, he did not provide detailed information, choosing to keep his cards close to his chest. DeCosta mentioned that he learned a lesson from his protracted extension negotiations with Lamar Jackson and acknowledged the value of not revealing too much information. He stated that the team will have a good plan in place for players like defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and linebacker Patrick Queen, who had a great year. DeCosta also mentioned having spoken to right guard Kevin Zeitler, indicating that re-signing him might be a priority. However, he did not provide specific details about the team's plans for their free agents or the use of the franchise tag [[1]].

Regarding the team's 2021 first-round draft picks, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, DeCosta did not indicate whether the team plans to pick up their fifth-year options. However, both DeCosta and Harbaugh pushed back on the notion that Bateman lacks chemistry with Jackson, expressing confidence in Bateman's future breakout after gaining more experience [[1]].

Coaching and Front Office Succession Plan

Coach Harbaugh took a risk by promoting 31-year-old Zach Orr to fill the defensive coordinator position left by Mike Macdonald. Despite having more experienced in-house options, Harbaugh chose Orr based on his sharpness, charisma, and familiarity with the Ravens' system. Harbaugh expressed confidence in Orr's ability to do a great job as defensive coordinator, especially with the support of veteran coaches Chris Hewitt and Anthony Weaver [[1]].

The departure of Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting, to become the general manager of the Los Angeles Chargers did not create as much concern as the loss of Mike Macdonald. General manager Eric DeCosta expressed confidence in the executives who will take on Hortiz's responsibilities, including Mark Azevedo, David Blackburn, and George Kokinas. DeCosta believes that the Ravens have the right people to continue the drafting process successfully [[1]].

In summary, the Ravens' coaching staff and front office remain optimistic about the team's future despite the disappointment of their playoff loss. They believe in the team's process, have confidence in Lamar Jackson, and are focused on making difficult roster decisions to build a strong team for the upcoming season.

Ravens brain trust does not see failed process behind playoff disappointments | TAKEAWAYS (2024)
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