Of­fense needs to liven up to win

De­fense, kick­ing can’t keep car­ry­ing team, Har­baugh, play­ers say

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

The for­mula has worked well enough for the Ravens to win six games and earn a share of first place in the AFC North with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers. But even in the din af­ter the Ravens’ 19-14 vic­tory over the Cincin­nati Ben­gals on Sun­day, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco ac­knowl­edged that the way the of­fense had just played won’t be good enough to get the team to the play­offs.

“We’re not go­ing to sur­vive week in and week out do­ing things like that,” Flacco said af­ter the Ravens were held to just one touch­down and scored only three sec­ond-half points.

At times this sea­son, the Ravens (6-5) have won largely in spite of their slug­gish of­fense. They’ve been able to lean on the NFL’s sec­ond-ranked de­fense and on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker, who made all four of his field-goal at­tempts against the Ben­gals and is per­fect on 27 at­tempts this sea­son.

What has been good enough to beat the Jack­sonville Jaguars, Cleve­land Browns and a reel­ing Ben­gals team doesn’t fig­ure to work against the Mi­ami Dol­phins, who come to M&T Bank Sta­dium on Sun­day with an AFC-best six-game win­ning streak ... or the fol­low-

ing week, on the road against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots (9-2) ... or on Christ­mas Day against the host Steel­ers in what could amount to a post­sea­son play-in game.

As they start pre­par­ing for the sec­ond game of what coach John Har­baugh billed last week as a six-game sea­son, the Ravens seem to un­der­stand that the way they’re win­ning prob­a­bly isn’t sus­tain­able. If they’re go­ing to out­last the Steel­ers and win their first AFC North ti­tle since 2012, their of­fense is go­ing to have to find a way to be more con­sis­tent and ex­plo­sive.

“I’d love to see num­bers be through the roof, but num­bers don’t win games,” Har­baugh said Mon­day. “We need to score more points as an of­fense. That’s the bot­tom line, and we’ve just got to con­tinue to find a way to do that. I be­lieve we can do it, I know we can do it.”

Through 11 games, the Ravens are tied for 23rd in the NFL in yards per game (334.2). They’re av­er­ag­ing just 19.8 points per game. Only seven teams av­er­age fewer, and only one of those teams — the Hous­ton Tex­ans — has a win­ning record.

They rank 28th in rush­ing yards per game (27.8), 29th in yards per play (4.9) and last in third-down ef­fi­ciency (33.3 per­cent). Those num­bers paint the pic­ture of an of­fense that has scored one or no touch­downs in six of 11 games. The Ravens’ 17 of­fen­sive touch­downs are the sec­ond fewest in the league, ahead of just the Tex­ans (16).

“We just have to ex­e­cute bet­ter,” Har­baugh said. “We have to get first downs. We have to stay out of the hole. Whenyou get on the 10-yard line and you make a cou­ple first downs and you get in that plus-fringe range, you have to make a play. There’s never any one thing. You’ve got to ex­e­cute th­ese plays in th­ese sit­u­a­tions.”

The Ravens seemed primed for an of­fen­sive break­through Sun­day when they drove 75 yards on 11 plays and got a 14-yard touch­down catch from Bre­shad Per­ri­man on their first pos­ses­sion. How­ever, they never got back into the end zone and were bailed out by Tucker, who con­nected on field goals of 52, 57, 54 and 36 yards.

“You al­ways have a lot of ups and downs. We just have to find some con­sis­tency,” Per­ri­man said.

That they haven’t, with the reg­u­lar sea­son more than two-thirds over, has con­vinced many pun­dits that the Ravens won’t be able to keep up with the Steel­ers in the di­vi­sion race.

“The kicker is the best player on the team, but you can’t de­pend on your kicker to make 50-plus-yard field goals ev­ery week to win foot­ball games,” NBC­an­a­lyst Rod­ney Har­ri­son, a for­mer NFL safety, said on the “Foot­ball Night in Amer­ica” pregame show. Tucker has ac­counted for 96 of the Ravens’ 218 points, 44 per­cent.

“In this league … you can have a re­ally good de­fense, but you have to be able to score,” for­mer NFL run­ning back LaDainian Tom­lin­son said dur­ing NFL Net­work’s Sun­day pro­gram­ming. “At the end of the day, you have to score, and be­cause the Ravens can­not score, and the Steel­ers can score, I give [Pitts­burgh] the edge.”

De­spite the out­side crit­i­cism and num­bers that show the Ravens, in sev­eral ar­eas, have been less pro­duc­tive of­fen­sively in six games with of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg call­ing the plays than in the first five games un­der the fired Marc Trest­man, Har­baugh main­tains there are im­prove­ments be­ing made.

He pointed Mon­day to bet­ter play by the Ravens of­fen­sive line over the past two weeks, and to the team seem­ingly set­tling into a nice one-two com­bi­na­tion on the ground with Ter­rance West (Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, North­west­ern High) and rookie Ken­neth Dixon. The two com­bined for 144 all-pur­pose yards against the Ben­gals.

Flacco and the rest of the of­fense have also had suc­cess the past three games when in a no-hud­dle of­fense. It’s what got the of­fense go­ing in the Nov. 10 vic­tory over the Browns, and it also yielded en­cour­ag­ing re­sults the past two weeks against the Dal­las Cow­boys and Ben­gals.

Lead­ing the Ben­gals by 13 points at half­time, the Ravens went away from the no-hud­dle for stretches of the sec­ond half, and Flacco said later that he felt the of­fense lost its tempo and “got a lit­tle bit con­ser­va­tive.” Har­baugh said Mon­day that the Ravens will con­tinue to use the no-hud­dle, but cau­tioned that the team isn’t built to use it ex­clu­sively.

The Ravens still want to be able to sus­tain drives and win games by re­ly­ing on their run­ning game and mix­ing in big pass­ing plays down the field. That’s the pre­ferred for­mula, rather than be­ing forced to lean on Tucker and the de­fense to close out games.

Thus far, though, that for­mula has been elu­sive, and the Ravens are run­ning out of time to find it. Sun­day’s game against the

“We need to score more points as an of­fense. That’s the bot­tom line. ... I be­lieve we can do it, I know we can do it.” Coach John Har­baugh

Dol­phins rep­re­sents the next op­por­tu­nity.

“You’re not go­ing to see the same de­fense, and you’re not go­ing to see the same schemes. They’re go­ing to be schem­ing up ways to at­tack your weak­nesses, and you’ve got to ac­count for that,” Har­baugh said. “That’s what makes foot­ball great. That’s what makes it so chal­leng­ing, and that’s our chal­lenge on of­fense — to get it to the point where the re­sults are with what you and I and ev­ery­body want to see, which is yards and points and win­ning foot­ball that can ex­tend leads in the sec­ond half.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Kicker Justin Tucker gives fans a thumb­sup af­ter Sun­day’s vic­tory, when he made four field goals, three over 50 yards.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Ravens’ Bre­shad Per­ri­man catches a first-quar­ter touch­down pass over the Ben­gals’ Dar­queze Den­nard, the Ravens’ only touch­down Sun­day.

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