Ravens need to find a more bal­anced at­tack

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

In one brief state­ment, Joe Flacco went against all these new philoso­phies about what it takes to have a suc­cess­ful of­fense and win in the NFL these days.

“Some­times you don’t re­al­ize un­til you look up at the end that you’ve thrown the ball that many times,” the Ravens quar­ter­back said. “But in this day and age, I mean, 40 pass at­tempts is just nor­mal.

“Those days when you’re throw- ing the ball 25 to 30 times, they’re lovely days, be­cause usu­ally you com­pleted a good amount of them and you’re win­ning the foot­ball game.” Amen. That’s what the Ravens need to work on this Sun­day against the Ten­nessee Ti­tans. They don’t need to be­come a run-ori­ented of­fense, just more bal­anced with the run so Flacco isn’t throw­ing the ball 56 times a week, like he did last Sun­day in the loss to the Cleve­land Browns.

Through­out his 11 years in Bal­ti­more, the Ravens are 3-12 when Flacco has thrown more than 50 times in a game. Against the Ti­tans, the Ravens face the No. 26-ranked run de­fense, al­low­ing 123.2 yards per game.

Ravens coach John Har­baugh has spent the week de­fend­ing the team’s

wide-open ap­proach, pos­si­bly a way of de­flect­ing crit­i­cism of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg.

But he knows this team will even­tu­ally have to be able to run the ball, ei­ther be­cause of cold or rainy weather or to se­cure a win in the fourth quar­ter.

Even­tu­ally, all the fin­gers will be pointed at Har­baugh be­cause he is the head coach. It re­ally comes down to com­mit­ment.

I’m not just talk­ing about game-togame ei­ther, but year-to-year. The Ravens showed a lack of com­mit­ment last week when run­ning back Alex Collins ran the ball six times for 42 yards in the first half but only six times for 17 in the sec­ond in a 12-9 loss.

That was just aban­don­ment and made the Ravens’ of­fen­sive strat­egy clearer. The ap­proach might be dic­tated out of fear be­cause they know fans and owner Steve Bis­ciotti want an ex­cit­ing and pro­duc­tive of­fense in 2018.

But let’s not get crazy. The Ravens have at­tempted 232 passes this sea­son com­pared with 139 runs, and Collins and backup Buck Allen have com­bined for only 91 car­ries.

No run­ning back can get into a rhythm av­er­ag­ing 11 car­ries a game. Heck, back­ups want at least four or five at­tempts in the first half.

If the Ravens want a stronger run­ning game, then com­mit to more runs. If they want to keep Flacco healthy for the en­tire sea­son, they might want to pound the ball more in­stead of hav­ing him ex­posed so much while drop­ping back to pass.

Part of the prob­lem is that Har­baugh doesn’t like Collins’ style. The Ravens pre­fer more of a north and south, down­hill-type run­ner such as Allen or rookie De’Lance Turner.

Collins has the juke and cut­back style. He is al­ways twist­ing and turn­ing. He might fum­ble, but no one can ques­tion the sec­ond or third ef­forts he gives on each carry.

Un­for­tu­nately, his style and Allen’s have made the Ravens pre­dictable. When Collins is in the game, the Ravens use a lot of play-ac­tion fakes or out­side or in­side zone runs on first and sec­ond downs.

When Allen is in the game, it’s usu­ally power plays or pass plays with five- or six-man pro­tec­tions.

I as­sume Dean Pees, the Ravens’ former de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor now in the same ca­pac­ity with Ten­nessee, is lov­ing life this week.

One of the ob­vi­ous weak­nesses in the Ravens’ run­ning game is the in­te­rior of the of­fen­sive line. Most teams in the NFL no longer in­vest a lot of money or get qual­ity depth on this group.

The Ravens are no ex­cep­tion. Over the years, they have de­vel­oped line­men such as guard Kelechi Osemele and tack­les Michael Oher and Rick Wag­ner, only to al­low them to sign big­ger con­tracts else­where.

The lat­est was cen­ter Ryan Jensen, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers dur­ing the off­sea­son. Jensen wasn’t a great player, but he was tough, solid and de­pend­able.

His Ravens re­place­ment is sec­ond-year player Matt Skura, who is small and stiff, but will get bet­ter with an­other year of ex­pe­ri­ence. Left guard Alex Lewis also needs to get bet­ter knee bend while strug­gling.

Right guard Mar­shal Yanda, af­ter 12 years in the league, might have lost a step, and right tackle James Hurst is “just an­other guy.”

Tim­ing, ex­pe­ri­ence and rhythm are the keys for any of­fen­sive line, and this group is lack­ing in most of those ar­eas.

In a sense, you can un­der­stand the Ravens re­ly­ing more on the pass so far this sea­son. You could see it com­ing af­ter the first game against Buf­falo, when Flacco threw 34 times against the Bills and then 55 times the fol­low­ing week in a loss to the Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

My mind kept shoot­ing back to the 2013 and 2016 sea­sons when Flacco came out throw­ing. In 2013, Flacco com­pleted 362 of 614 passes for 3,912 yards, 19 touch­downs and 22 in­ter­cep­tions.

Three years later, he com­pleted 436 of 672 passes for 4,317 yards, 20 touch­downs and 15 in­ter­cep­tions. Both times, the Ravens fin­ished 8-8. That’s not good enough. One of Flacco’s best sea­sons came in 2014 un­der co­or­di­na­tor Gary Ku­biak’s of­fense when he com­pleted 344 of 554 passes for 3,986 yards, 27 touch­downs and 12 in­ter­cep­tions. The Ravens also ran the ball 448 times for 2,019 yards. They fin­ished 10-6, which was also the last time they’ve been to the play­offs in the past five years.

That’s what balance brings. That’s what the Ravens need. So far, only In­di­anapo­lis Colts quar­ter­back An­drew Luck has thrown more passes than Flacco (245 to 227) this sea­son. That has to change. It can this week against the Ti­tans. The Ravens need to im­prove on their 94.4 rush­ing yards per game.

“Just ex­e­cu­tion. That sounds sim­ple, but ex­e­cu­tion at a high level, all 11 guys do­ing their job — that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes in the pass­ing game; that’s what it takes in the run game as well,” Yanda said.

“Those runs are go­ing to come. We­have the guys that can do it and the scheme that can do it where ev­ery­one is go­ing to put their head down and keep go­ing.”

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