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Eisenberg: What Were You Expecting From Offense?

Posted Aug 17, 2013

Flacco can't do it alone. Several big pieces may still be worked into the offensive blueprint.

I know how these things work. And I know people suddenly are worried about the prognosis for the Ravens offense in 2013. 

Maybe more than a little worried. More like fleeing-a-burning-building worried. 

It’s understandable to a degree. The first-team offense didn’t produce a point in the preseason opener in Tampa, and it went backwards Thursday night against Atlanta. Yes, it did produce a touchdown on a pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, but its five other possessions ended with four punts and a pick, certain to produce handwringing. 

Here’s my take: No, it was not anywhere close to good enough. That’s obvious. There was little run blocking or downfield passing. A big improvement is needed. That’s obvious. 

But were you expecting perfection? 

Think about the parts of the Ravens’ Super Bowl offense that were missing Thursday night. It’s a long list – surprisingly long once you add it up. 

Matt Birk, the starting center, now retired wasn’t there. Neither were receivers Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta, Flacco’s two favorite targets. Bernard Pierce, the team’s leading rusher down the stretch of 2012, was sidelined with an injury, as were Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, the team’s best blocker, and tight end Ed Dickson

That’s six major missing pieces from the offense that won the Super Bowl, including top blockers, top receivers and top runners. It’s a lot. As proficient as the Ravens are at plugging holes as they go with their “next man up” approach, that’s a ton of change, more than half due to injury. 

To expect Flacco and the offense just to sail through all that turbulence without experiencing bumps is, well, expecting a lot. 

Guaranteed, there are folks expecting that smooth sailing simply because Flacco signed his big contract in the offseason, their rationale being that, since he is now so highly paid, he ought to be able to put up points even if his huddle mates are cartoon characters wearing funny hats. 

Phooey on that. Flacco can’t do it alone and no one should expect that. An offense is a complex engine that needs all of its cylinders to be firing to excel, and the Ravens didn’t even have their full complement of cylinders Thursday night. 

In other words, let’s not get carried away. It’s too early to wake up sweating. The Ravens still have a pair of preseason games to play before beginning the regular season in Denver. Yanda, Pierce, and Dickson are due back, soon in the case of the first two. Meanwhile, Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell is still in vanilla game plan mode, giving nothing away, pulling punches, and just beginning to fold new pieces Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley into the blueprint. 

True, on the flip side, Boldin and Pitta aren’t coming back, Boldin because he was traded and Pitta because he suffered what was likely a season-ending hip injury, and the search for viable receiving targets to replace those mainstays is hardly flourishing. Flacco has yet to develop a palpable chemistry with any wideout other than Smith. Caldwell has three weeks to find the right hands for all sorts of situations – third downs, red zone, etc. It’s a fragile situation, deserving of concern. 

But this is why the preseason exists, to give teams time to confront their issues, identify kinks and try to iron them out. Honestly, poor performances just don’t matter; I would be hard-pressed to identify anything less meaningful in the long run than a lousy first half in Week 2 of the preseason. Two months from now, no one will remember it. 

What matters in the long run is how well the team addresses its kinks, and it’s premature to start filling in the scorecard on the Ravens offense until the regular season is underway. For that matter, even the first part of the regular season is early. Teams evolve through October, November and December, as the Ravens did in 2012.

The goal is to get your act together in time to give yourself a chance in January, and well, as summer flutters on, that’s a long time from now. The offense has given us plenty to talk about, but let’s see what happens. 

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