December 24, 2011
The past two weeks aren't exactly the kind of games I would point to if I was going to sing the praises of John Harbaugh and his coordinators. Against the Chargers, Harbaugh admitted he screwed up by not using his timeouts at the end of the half, a decision that contributed to the Ravens' falling behind by two scores. Chuck Pagano looked like a first-year coordinator, not a candidate for the next NFL job opening, when he couldn't make an adjustment to slow down Philip Rivers. Even when Cam Cameron makes good calls, the Ravens still struggle at times because they have such awful tempo getting to the line of scrimmage. And Jerry Rosburg's special teams unit had yet another big letdown when Joshua Cribbs returned a punt for a touchdown.
But the Browns made two crucial errors Saturday that could have been categorized as funny if they weren't so embarrassing. And even if both errors were ultimately committed by players, both can still be directly attributed to coaching.
Seneca Wallace tried to blame himself for Cleveland's inability to come up with points near the end of the first half when the clock was ticking down. He said it was loud in the east end zone of M&T Bank Stadium, that Shurmur was barking, "Clock! Clock! Clock!" in his helmet and he called the wrong play, a handoff to Peyton Hillis. The Ravens tackled Hillis, and time ran out. It seemed, at the time, like it wouldn't matter. But then Cleveland outscored Baltimore 14-3 in the second half.
"Its not the head coachs fault. I called 66T, a running play, and it didnt work," Wallace said. "It was a tough situation, but I should have handled it better."
That doesn't really let Shurmur off the hook, though. He was the guy burning through his timeouts in the first half like someone was going to steal them if he didn't use them. And even if Wallace did panic and call a bad play, Shurmur still called the play before that one, a pass on which Evan Moore couldn't get out of bounds. The Ravens linebackers aren't exactly suffocating in coverage. Why not take two shots at the end zone and then kick a field goal if you don't cash them in? I realize Wallace is your backup quarterback, but he's also a 9-year veteran. He's not some rookie. Shurmur made an allusion to the headsets not working properly, for whatever that's worth, but when pressed by reporters, he backed away from it.
"I need to communicate better, OK? Let's just leave it at that," Shurmur said after the game.
Shurmur also couldn't drill it into the heads of his players that the Ravens were probably going to attempt to draw them offside when they came to the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-2 after the two-minute warning. Flacco acknowledged after the game the Ravens didn't have a play called. Ultimately, it was Phil Taylor who jumped offside, but a mental error like that, especially coming out of a timeout, falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
"John [Harbaugh] was like, 'Theres no way they jump.' " Flacco said. "You never know. In that situation, we got fortunate. You [hope] it isnt going to come down to that. But, hey, it did come down to it. That's what we needed today, and thats what we got."
Did the Ravens really not have a play called?
"Come on, you guys can figure it out," Flacco said. "The play clock was at two seconds, and we hadn't snapped the ball yet."