Of­fen­sive turn­around hap­pen­ing very slowly

Af­ter three games un­der Morn­hin­weg, unit still lag­ging on al­most all fronts

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

When the Ravens made the switch at of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor from Marc Trest­man to Marty Morn­hin­weg, they didn’t ex­pect things to turn around dras­ti­cally overnight. Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco was off to one of the worst starts of his ca­reer. The run­ning game was in­ef­fec­tive and the of­fen­sive line was play­ing poorly. In­juries were keep­ing sev­eral starters off the field.

Three games isn’t nearly enough time to make any con­clu­sions about Morn­hin­weg’s per­for­mance as the team’s play caller, but the Ravens’ cur­rent of­fense cer­tainly doesn’t look a whole lot dif­fer­ent than the old one.

Flacco is still strug­gling to mount a con­sis­tent down­field pass­ing game. The run­ning game might have got­ten worse. The of­fen­sive line still isn’t play­ing well enough. Penal­ties and mis­takes con­tinue to kill drives and cost the Ravens points.

Fresh off Sun­day’s 21-14 vic­tory over the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, a game the Ravens won largely be­cause of their defense and spe­cial teams, play­ers and coaches in­sist of­fen­sive progress is be­ing made. It’s just not com­ing as quickly as they hoped.

“When you’re in­volved in it, when you’re in the mid­dle of it, you see the progress in ev­ery lit­tle area,” coach John Har­baugh said Mon­day. “We’re mak­ing progress in many ar­eas. The things that were hold­ing us back in this game were across the board a lit­tle bit in ev­ery area. We just got to get bet­ter.”

Wide re­ceiver Ka­mar Aiken summed up the state of the Ravens’ of­fense best Mon­day when he said, “There’s def­i­nitely progress. It’s lit­tle progress, but it’s progress. We would love to clean the penal­ties up and make some of those plays, and not have the what-ifs.”

The Ravens re­turned to work Mon­day and im­me­di­ately be­gan prepa­ra­tions for Thurs­day night’s game against the win­less Thurs­day, 8:25 p.m. TV: NFL Net­work, Ch. 11 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 10

Cleve­land Browns, who have one of the league’s worst de­fenses. The win over the Steel­ers broke a four-game los­ing streak and moved the Ravens into a tie for first place in the AFC North. What it didn’t do is ease any con­cerns about the play of the Ravens of­fense.

The Ravens man­aged just 274 yards against a Steel­ers defense that came in ranked 27th in the NFL with 390.1 yards al­lowed per game. Ten of the Ravens’ 13 drives ended with either a punt or a turnover. Take away Mike Wal­lace’s 95-yard touch­down catch on a slant pat­tern and the Ravens av­er­aged only 2.9 yards per play. While try­ing to hold a 21-point fourth-quar­ter lead, the Ravens mus­tered 2 to­tal yards.

“We­make two plays in that game — we have a route up the right side­line [by Bre­shad Per­ri­man] and a route up the left side­line [by Dar­ren Waller] — if we make those two plays, I think you see a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent out­put and there­fore out­come,” Har­baugh said.

On Sun­day, echo­ing some­thing he said of­ten in Oc­to­ber, Flacco ac­knowl­edged “a lit­tle frus­tra­tion in the fact that we’re not play­ing as well as we want to.” Over­all, the Ravens rank 27th in yards per game (325.1), 20th in pass­ing yards per game (243.4) and 28th in rush­ing yards per game (81.8). Flacco has the sec­ond-worst quar­ter­back rat­ing of any cur­rent starter in the league.

When Trest­man was fired a day af­ter the loss to the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins on Oct. 9, the Ravens of­fense wasav­er­ag­ing 338.2 yards per game. In three games with Morn­hin­weg, who was pro­moted from quar­ter­backs coach to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, they are av­er­ag­ing 303.2 yards per game.

It’s not a fair com­par­i­son. Morn­hin­weg has been call­ing the plays for only three games. In two of those, the Ravens were with­out their top wide re­ceiver, Steve Smith Sr., and two start­ing of­fen­sive line­men, Mar­shal Yanda and Ron­nie Stan­ley. Morn­hin­weg de­serves an ex­tended chance to leave his im­print on the of­fense.

“I think Marty’s per­son­al­ity is start­ing to per­me­ate through their of­fense,” Browns coach Hue Jack­son said Mon­day in a con­fer­ence call with Bal­ti­more-area re­porters. “They’re do­ing things Marty’s way. They’re throw­ing the ball down the field more, they’re run­ning more screens. They’re do­ing things that Marty likes to do. But the big­gest thing that I’ve seen with the Bal­ti­more Ravens Dar­ren Waller misses a pass from Joe Flacco in front of the Steel­ers’ James Har­ri­son on Sun­day. The Ravens rank 20th in pass­ing yards per game. foot­ball team is they are back to play­ing defense the way Bal­ti­more plays defense.”

Jack­son’s com­ment about the defense, in re­sponse to a ques­tion about the of­fense, is telling. So was safety Eric Wed­dle’s as­sess­ment fol­low­ing Sun­day’s game that the defense has to “play great to win games.” The Ravens haven’t won a game this sea­son when they’ve al­lowed more than 20 points.

The con­tin­ued in­ef­fec­tive­ness of the run­ning game re­mains a ma­jor con­cern. Trest­man took a lot of crit­i­cism for his fail­ure to es­tab­lish and stick to the run, but the team’s pro­duc­tiv­ity on the ground has ac­tu­ally grown worse.

The Ravens are av­er­ag­ing 2.2 yards per carry over the past three games, com­pared with 4.2 in the first five games un­der Trest­man. They are also run­ning the ball slightly less un­der Morn­hin­weg (22 car­ries per game) than they did un­der Trest­man (24 car­ries per game), al­though the11runs against the New York Jets on Oct. 23 cer­tainly skewed the sta­tis­tics.

Still, sev­eral play­ers said that the game plan has been more bal­anced in re­cent weeks.

“Coach is game-plan­ning, and it’s been a more bal­anced game plan,” said run­ning back Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High), who has rushed for 31 yards on 23 to­tal car­ries over the past two games. “That’s what hap­pened.”

The Ravens have been able to make a few more plays down the field, none big­ger than Wal­lace’s 95-yard touch­down Sun­day. It was the long­est play from scrim­mage in fran­chise reg­u­larsea­son his­tory.

“We’re tak­ing a cou­ple more shots down the field and play­ing a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive,” Wal­lace said Mon­day. “We’re at­tack­ing the defense more than when we were kind of dink­ing and dunk­ing down the field.”

Wal­lace has been say­ing for weeks that penal­ties — not play call­ing — are hold­ing the Ravens back. In the loss to the Jets, West’s 52-yard run to the Jets’ 4-yard line was wiped away by a hold­ing penalty com­mit­ted by rookie Alex Lewis.

Against the Steel­ers, penal­ties nul­li­fied first-down re­cep­tions by Smith and Aiken, and then an ill-ad­vised throw by Flacco was in­ter­cepted, tak­ing away an­other scor­ing chance. On the two other missed op­por­tu­ni­ties Har­baugh made ref­er­ence to, nei­ther Per­ri­man nor Waller got off cov­er­age and rec­og­nized the ball was com­ing their way quickly enough. If they had, and had made the catch, they would have had a free run down the side­line.

“It’s that close, but it’s that far un­til you do it con­sis­tently,” Har­baugh said. “We’re do­ing it a lot of times, but we’re not do­ing it con­sis­tently. That’s what we have to find a way to do and I’m ab­so­lutely cer­tain that we will do it.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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