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Holding on to Harbaugh, For Now

Jeff Weese/flickr

John Harbaugh deserves one more chance as the Ravens’ head coach.

Admittedly, that was not the first thought that rolled through my mind in the immediate wake of Sunday’s 27-10 season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a performance that was the dictionary definition of the word desultory.

The Bengals, who had even less to play for than the Ravens, scored on their first possessions and never looked back.

In effect, Cincinnati bullied the Ravens, who left the impression they couldn’t wait to clear out their lockers and get started on post-Christmas sale shopping.

Add that image to the fact that the Ravens were fourth in the NFL in the numbers of total penalties, penalties per game and per play and you can get the impression that the team played as often by emotion as by execution.

You can’t lay all of that on Harbaugh, but it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to gauge which Ravens team will show up from week to week.

And that is a coach’s responsibility, to help his team be as productive as possible from game to game and within games.

After nine years, it’s hard to look at the Ravens and point to a specific area, save for Harbaugh’s specialty, the special teams, where the team is among the NFL’s elite.

The Ravens are as maddeningly frustrating to watch now as they were when Brian Billick was coach and that inconsistency is apparent in their record.

Not only have the Ravens finished out of the playoffs three times in the past four years, but this marks the first time since the 2003 and 2004 years where they missed the postseason in consecutive years.

Just as significantly, the 8-8 record in 2016, following 2015’s 5-11 campaign represents the first consecutive non-winning seasons since 1997 and 1998.

While 2015 could be rationalized by the season-ending injury to quarterback Joe Flacco two-thirds of the way through the year, the reasons for this year’s mediocrity are a bit more complex.

The defense was ranked high in some categories, but broke down dramatically in the final three games, particularly in its ability to stop the run.

The offense was wildly inconsistent, led by Flacco, who threw for a career-high number of yards, which is good, and the most passing attempts of any quarterback in the league, which is not.

Kicker Justin Tucker was the second leading scorer in the league and missed only one kick all season. That’s great for Tucker, but a kicker who is making field goals means your offense is not scoring touchdowns.

So, with all this as backdrop, why should the Ravens bring John Harbaugh back?

Two reasons. First, Harbaugh will want to prove that he is the coach who led the Ravens to the playoffs in his first five seasons, not the guy whose teams have been home in January in three of the last four.

And secondly, the Ravens would likely have to pay Harbaugh millions of dollars, since he earns more than $7 million annually and is under contract past next season.

In the end, John Harbaugh should come back next year. But, if 2017 isn’t significantly better than 2016, then he should be looking for work next January.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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