Of­fense shows spark, fan­ning hopes for a turn­around

Unit’s sec­ond-half surge a po­ten­tial ‘turn­ing point’

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

At long last, they popped some runs, turned some short passes into big gains, con­verted third downs and fin­ished a few drives in the end zone. And when their streak of 17 con­sec­u­tive of­fen­sive pos­ses­sions with­out a touch­down was over and they fi­nally had built some mo­men­tum, the Ravens cel­e­brated. Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco and full­back Kyle Juszczyk per­formed a chore­ographed hand­shake, tight end Dar­ren Waller danced, and wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man struck a pose.

“The thing that made me happy was just see­ing the of­fense have fun,” said Waller, whose 4-yard catch in the back of the end zone was one of the Ravens’ three sec­ond-half touch­downs in their 28-7 vic­tory over the Cleve­land Browns on Thurs­day night. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but to see ev­ery­body smil­ing and see the en­ergy tran­si­tion into points down the stretch, that was a great feel­ing.”

Emerg­ing from weeks of strug­gles and a six-point first half in which they were booed at times by the home crowd, the Ravens went to a hurry-up of­fense, gained Nov. 20, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: TBA

232 yards in the sec­ond half and then put the win­less, weary Browns away with a 12-play, 90-yard scor­ing drive that ate up nearly 71⁄ min­utes of the fourth quar­ter.

“Lis­ten, this game didn’t look like it was go­ing to be a game where we were laugh­ing in the fourth quar­ter. It looked like it was go­ing to be a typ­i­cal Cleve­land-Bal­ti­more game that was go­ing to be fought out till the end,” Flacco said. “So it’s def­i­nitely a lit­tle bit of a re­lief to be able to be over there in the fourth quar­ter and be 99.9 per­cent sure you’re go­ing to win the game.”

Flacco, though, ac­knowl­edged the big ques­tion that hung over a vic­to­ri­ous locker room late Thurs­day evening, one that will go a long way to­ward de­ter­min­ing whether the AFC North-lead­ing Ravens (5-4) are a le­git­i­mate play­off team.

Did the Ravens truly find some­thing they can build on of­fen­sively, or did they sim­ply take ad­van­tage of one of the league’s worst de­fenses? Even Flacco con­ceded he wasn’t sure.

“It’s tough to an­swer that be­cause it still comes down to go­ing out there next Sun­day when we line up again and do­ing it, be­cause we’re not go­ing to be play­ing the Cleve­land Browns,” Flacco said. “I think it does give guys con­fi­dence, and it can be a big plus, but it still comes down to how we go out there and re­spond to it.”

The Ravens, who en­tered the matchup against the Browns with the 27th-ranked of­fense in the NFL, still have yet to face a de­fense that ranks in the top 10 in the league. Start­ing Nov. 20, that could change. The Dal­las Cow­boys, who will host the Ravens af­ter play­ing the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers on Sun­day, rank 10th in to­tal de­fense. The Philadel­phia Ea­gles, who will be in Bal­ti­more on Dec. 18, are al­low­ing the sixth-fewest yards per game in the NFL, and an­other one of the Ravens’ De­cem­ber op­po­nents, the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, have a top-15 de­fense.

The Browns, mean­while, rank last in third-down de­fense and sec­ond to last in to­tal de­fense, rush de­fense, scor­ing de­fense and red-zone de­fense. Yet the Browns still held the Ravens to two field goals by Justin The Ravens’ Joe Flacco, left, and Kyle Juszczyk con­grat­u­late Bre­shad Per­ri­man af­ter his touch­down catch in the fourth quar­ter, the first of his ca­reer. Tucker in the first half and twice in­ter­cepted passes by Flacco in the red zone. Some­thing clicked in the third quar­ter when Flacco, who threw just one touch­down pass in the three pre­vi­ous games com­bined, had three in a lit­tle over 18 min­utes.

“I think we’re in a build­ing process with our team, but most cer­tainly with our of­fense, which has the fur­thest dis­tance to go prob­a­bly,” coach John Har­baugh said. “We just have to keep coach­ing, keep prac­tic­ing, keep play­ing and keep de­cid­ing what’s go­ing to be right for us to run of­fen­sively, and keep im­prov­ing. Hope­fully, we’ll all look back at this at the end of the sea­son and say this was a turn­ing point for the of­fense.”

Har­baugh said he and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg de­cided to go to the no-hud­dle of­fense “to shake it up a lit­tle bit and do some­thing dif­fer­ent, and see if we could find a rhythm.” The im­me­di­ate re­sult was the Ravens wear­ing down the Browns and Flacco look­ing as com­fort­able as he has all sea­son.

Start­ing late in the sec­ond quar­ter, the Ravens were in the hurry-up on four con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions, and they scored on three of them (one field goal, two touch­down passes); the other re­sulted in an in­ter­cep­tion by Flacco in the end zone. Af­ter the game, Flacco sounded like some­body who wished the Ravens would go to the no-hud­dle of­fense more.

“Who doesn’t like it? You get the de­fense on their heels, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

There were other im­por­tant take­aways that bode well for the Ravens of­fense. A two-headed run­ning at­tack of Ter­rance West (Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, North­west­ern High) and rookie Ken­neth Dixon was rea­son­ably pro­duc­tive as the Ravens gained 119 yards on the ground and were suc­cess­ful run­ning out of the shot­gun.

Flacco com­pleted at least one pass to nine re­ceivers, and he got play­ers who had been non­fac­tors in re­cent weeks — in­clud­ing Dixon and Waller — in­volved in the pass­ing game. The Ravens also were able to get wide re­ceivers Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wal­lace and Per­ri­man the ball in space on cross­ing and slant routes. Production on such plays has mostly been miss­ing this year, aside from Wal­lace’s 95-yard touch­down on a slant against the Steel­ers.

Ev­ery­thing came to­gether on the late 12-play drive, which started at the Ravens’ 10-yard line with 13:48 to play in the fourth and ended with Per­ri­man’s div­ing catch in the end zone at the 6:30 mark. The Browns knew the Ravens, who were up two touch­downs when the drive be­gan, were go­ing to run the ball, and the Ravens still man­aged to get 44 yards on nine car­ries. Per­ri­man and Ka­mar Aiken made first-down re­cep­tions un­der­neath, and Per­ri­man caught the deep pass for his first ca­reer score.

“Hope­fully, this isn’t our best of­fen­sive per­for­mance this sea­son,” tight end Den­nis Pitta said. “Hope­fully, we can take this mo­men­tum and un­der­stand the weapons we have and the po­ten­tial we have and fi­nally start to re­al­ize it a lit­tle bit.”


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