‘O’ waits for pieces to all come to­gether

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - Childs.walker@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Child­sWalker

fewer yards per game than any team in the league.

But that rosy pic­ture masks a gnaw­ing con­cern ex­pressed by quar­ter­back Joe Flacco and other key of­fen­sive play­ers after Sun­day’s 28-27 loss to the Oak­land Raiders.

They know they’re fail­ing to seize the ini­tia­tive early in games, mak­ing too many mis­takes, fin­ish­ing too few drives with touch­downs and strug­gling to con­nect for the down­field plays they ex­pected go­ing into the sea­son.

The Ravens have mended their of­fense on the fly be­fore, most fa­mously dur­ing the 2012 sea­son that fin­ished with a Su­per Bowl ti­tle.

In that case, Har­baugh took the rad­i­cal step of fir­ing of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Cam Cameron after a Week14 loss to the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins. Cameron’s re­place­ment, Jim Cald­well, put a greater em­pha­sis on throw­ing down­field, and Flacco re­sponded by play­ing the best stretch of his ca­reer.

Of course, the next year, with Cald­well serv­ing as co­or­di­na­tor for the en­tire sea­son, the of­fense was the least pro­duc­tive of Har­baugh’s nineyear ten­ure.

Find­ing a con­sis­tent of­fen­sive iden­tity has never been an ex­act sci­ence for this fran­chise.

The Ravens en­tered this sea­son hop­ing to cre­ate more quick-strike scores. They signed wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace, one of the top deep threats in the league in his days with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers. And they wel­comed back a healthy Bre­shad Per­ri­man, whom they’d drafted in the first round in 2015 be­cause they thought he could fill Tor­rey Smith’s shoes as a ver­ti­cal weapon.

Steve Smith Sr., their most pro­duc­tive re­ceiver in 2014 and the first half of 2015, pushed off re­tire­ment so he could re­turn from a torn Achilles ten­don.

But aside from Flacco’s 66-yard touch­down pass to Wal­lace in Week 1 and his 52-yard catch-and-run hookup with Smith in the fourth quar­ter Sun­day, the ex­pected big plays have not come. In­stead, the Ravens have be­gun games with quick, con­ser­va­tive passes, and Flacco has spent more time than he’d like duck­ing in­com­ing de­fend­ers.

He’s com­plet­ing 63.5 per­cent of his Coach John Har­baugh re­mains con­fi­dent in the Ravens’ of­fen­sive plan. passes, which would be the sec­ond­high­est mark of his ca­reer. But the Ravens av­er­age just 6.3 yards per pass at­tempt, third worst in the league.

Wal­lace has av­er­aged 10.8 yards a catch since his long touch­down in the opener. Per­ri­man has caught eight passes to­tal.

Flacco ac­knowl­edged the re­al­ity after Sun­day’s loss.

“I think that’s just who we are right now,” he said when asked about the lack of deep balls. “We’ve just got to get jelled up more, so we’re get­ting some more yards after catch and things like that on some of those short passes.”

Smith said op­pos­ing de­fenses have forced the Ravens to look un­der­neath.

“We are not re­ally see­ing a lot of man cov­er­age, and it is hard to run deep routes against zone cov­er­age be­cause that plays into their hands,” he said.

Har­baugh said the ab­sence of deep shots has not been in­ten­tional.

“We called a bunch of them. There’s no doubt about that,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Raiders game. “We threw a few of them, some of them we weren’t able to get off and some of them we had to check down. So we’ve got to keep call­ing them. We have speed out there and we’ve got to start hit­ting them. You’ve got to get big plays in this league, and that’s what we’re search­ing for. I re­ally think we have the play­ers to do it.”

The raw num­bers Sun­day were fine. The Ravens gained 412 yards to Oak­land’s 261, made 25 first downs to Oak­land’s 13 and ran for a sea­son-best 130 yards (on 5 yards per carry).

But they fell be­hind 14-6 and then 21-12, and both Har­baugh and the play­ers spoke of how they put pres­sure on them­selves rather than on the Raiders.

Penal­ties played a sig­nif­i­cant part in that. The Ravens de­fense de­liv­ered three-and-outs on the Raiders’ first two pos­ses­sions. But a hold­ing penalty on cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah and a false start by left guard Ryan Jensen helped sink the Ravens’ first two drives, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for them to cap­i­tal­ize.

They com­mit­ted 10 penal­ties over­all, six of them on an of­fen­sive line that was play­ing with­out rookie starters Ron­nie Stan­ley and Alex Lewis on the left side. Five of those of­fen­sive line penal­ties led di­rectly to drives stalling.

“We overcame it once or twice, but you can’t over­come it five times,” Har­baugh said. “We don’t want to over­come it any times. We don’t want pres­nap penal­ties. We don’t want hold­ing penal­ties. We’re way bet­ter on of­fense than we showed, be­cause we’re ca­pa­ble of play­ing win­ning foot­ball. But we have to do it more of­ten.”

Sev­eral of those stalled drives put the de­fense in bad po­si­tion, try­ing to stop the Raiders on a short field.

“I feel like we talk about it ev­ery week,” guard Mar­shal Yanda said. “We talk about start­ing fast, lim­it­ing the penal­ties, and just start­ing fast. It just seems like we’re in a rut with start­ing fast. We’re go­ing to have to fix that, ob­vi­ously.”

Though the Ravens are far health­ier than they were for most of last sea­son, the lin­ger­ing ef­fects from in­juries have per­haps con­trib­uted to the of­fense’s un­even start.

Nei­ther Smith nor Per­ri­man had full train­ing camps to get in sync with Flacco. On the of­fen­sive line, Stan­ley missed Sun­day’s game be­cause of a foot in­jury, and Lewis was ac­tive but did not start after he suf­fered a con­cus­sion the pre­vi­ous week. Even healthy, they’re two in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers try­ing to pro­tect Flacco’s blind side.

Har­baugh ac­knowl­edged Mon­day that of­fen­sive chem­istry is still a work in progress but seemed op­ti­mistic the Ravens are on the cusp of some­thing bet­ter.

“After four weeks, you start to get an idea of what you’re re­ally kind of good at, espe­cially with our re­ceivers com­ing to the ta­ble late,” he said. “I feel like we all can see now what we have and how to uti­lize th­ese guys.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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