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Eisenberg: Questions Surround Ravens Offense As It Enters Meet-and-Greet Stage

Posted Sep 5, 2017

It's been an offseason of change for the offensive unit, which will have three new starting offensive linemen, two new pass catchers and a new run scheme. Not to mention, quarterback Joe Flacco just returned to the field.

Unfortunately, when the Ravens offense huddles up for the first time Sunday in Cincinnati, there won’t be time to go around the circle and have everyone introduce themselves.

It would be nice, given all the new faces and short time they’ve been together.

“Hello, I’m Joe Flacco, the quarterback.”

“Hi, I’m Austin Howard, the new guy at right tackle.”

Nick Boyle. Tight end.”

I’m kidding, of course. The guys on offense aren’t THAT unfamiliar with each other.

But in terms of them performing as a unit with chemistry and collective rhythm, Sunday’s season opener will, indeed, constitute the football version of a meet-and-greet.

It’s been an offseason of change and uncertainty on that side of the ball. It appears the line has three new starters -- Howard, Ryan Jensen and James Hurst. There are two new receiving targets, Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead. Boyle is a first-year starter, and his backup, Benjamin Watson, has never played a regular-season snap for the Ravens.

Running backs Terrance West and Buck Allen are holdovers, but new blocking schemes have been installed, and in the absence of a true fullback, it appears a rookie defensive end, Patrick Ricard, will be the lead blocker.

As if all that change weren’t enough, Flacco missed training camp and the preseason because of a back injury.

A litany of questions about the offense are circulating as the season begins. Can Flacco perform at a winning level after missing so much time? Can he stay healthy? How quickly can he get in sync with Maclin and Woodhead? Can the reconfigured line protect him and open holes for backs? Is there enough game-breaking potential among the backs? Enough speed and play-making at tight end?

But aside from Flacco’s health, the biggest question is this: How quickly can these guys get their act together after having never played together?

While introducing themselves to each other, can they provide enough offense for the Ravens to win games early in the season?

It’s a challenge. The Ravens defense has also undergone a wave of change – six new starters, by my count – but the unit was together through training camp and played nearly a dozen series in the preseason, yielding virtually nothing. Thus, it has momentum and confidence heading into the season.

The offense, meanwhile, is like a hastily-formed business group that had to skip the icebreakers because it’s time to get to work.

That doesn’t mean the unit lacks potential. Although the front office focused on the defense in the draft and early part of free agency, there was a late focus on the offense with the Maclin and Howard signings and two trades for offensive line depth. In the end, the front office has checked off a lot of items on its offensive fix-it list.

Get bigger and more physical up front? Check.

Add quality playmakers? Check. (Yes, Maclin does play for the Ravens. It’s easy to forget because he caught just one pass in the preseason, but he’s here.)

Bolster a running game that faltered in 2016? There was no sign of improvement in the preseason, but with Flacco and many other guys not on the field, those games were no help as far as projecting how the offense might perform. We’ll find out about the running game starting Sunday. But the Ravens are taking a purposeful swing at the problem with new run-game specialist Greg Roman.

When Flacco, Woodhead and No. 3 receiver Breshad Perriman returned to practice over the weekend, you could begin to see the offense the front office envisioned. It could become a solid producer if Flacco is good to go and the guys around him stay healthy.

For sure, a test awaits in Cincinnati, where the Ravens haven’t beaten the Bengals since 2012. It would be quite a feat if the offense played well after just a few practices together. The goal is to do enough to give the Ravens a chance to win.

But the longer-term goal is the big one. A team can dig itself a hole early in a season. The Ravens will need their offense against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in Weeks 4 and 5, and going forward from there. The unit’s meet-and-greet phase can’t last long.

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