‘O’ waits for pieces to all come together
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.”