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Ravens Still Building Offensive Playbook

Posted Sep 24, 2013

With so many new pieces, the Ravens feel they are as far along as they could have hoped.

The Ravens went into Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans without their Pro Bowl running back and top tight end, with a rookie starting at wide receiver and a first-year starter at center.

Change has been part of the routine.

Baltimore has gone through a period of transition through the early part of this season – bringing in new players and dealing with a number of injuries – and the team’s offensive identity is still very much being shaped.

“We’re so new to this with a bunch of new players,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re still building an offensive playbook at this time.”

After Sunday’s win over the Texans, Harbaugh was asked if he had to take plays out of the playbook because of injuries to players like running back Ray Rice and tight end Dennis Pitta.

“I don’t know what we had in our playbook to this point,” Harbaugh responded, with a laugh.

There has been change all over the offense, but the most consistent piece is at quarterback, where Joe Flacco has started every game for the past six seasons.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith was the only one of Flacco’s targets in the lineup Sunday who also started last season. Pitta is on injured reserve and Anquan Boldin is in San Francisco. Rice missed the game with a hip injury and Jacoby Jones has been out since Week 1 with a knee injury. Second-year receiver Deonte Thompson is still recovering from a preseason foot injury.

Three of Ravens’ four leading targets – Marlon Brown, Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley – were not even on the team last year.

The Ravens knew coming into this season that there were questions on offense, as General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in July, "We don't know yet what our identity is going to be on offense, because it hasn't been established yet.”

Through the first three games, the team’s three offensive gameplans have varied significantly.

Flacco threw the ball a career-high 62 times in the season opener against Denver, as the Ravens fell behind early in the second half. But the next two weeks Flacco has averaged 28.5 passing attempts, while the Ravens have run the ball an average of 32 times a game.

The offense has alternated from an up-tempo, pass-heavy attack to a ground-and-pound approach depending on the situation.

“We are a young team,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of new guys, and we were thin at the running back position [against Houston]. We are going to have some growing pains throughout the first couple of weeks.”

While the Ravens have undergone those growing pains in the early part of the season, Harbaugh said the team is “as far along as we can possibly be with the new group at this time.”

The good news is also that the Ravens have won the last two games despite some of the offensive struggles, and are tied with the Bengals for the best record in the AFC North.

“I have said all along the biggest thing will be: Can we win while we have those [growing pains],” Flacco said. “The last two weeks we haven’t played great, but we’ve managed to win football games against two pretty good football teams. We have to continue to get better and come out next week flying around.”

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