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Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said Wednesday's practice is "the most important offensive practice we've had all year."
Essentially, the Ravens have to put Sunday's crushing sack/strip behind them and fix the run game – a critical part of their offense, especially as the weather turns cold.
With an additional day of preparation this week due to the Monday night schedule, Cameron sees Wednesday as a "mini-bye."
The team will be emphasizing the fundamentals even more than usual or perhaps cutting down on the complexity.
"It's an extra day to shore up anything that's unclear," Cameron said. "We're looking at everything we're doing in the running game in terms of how we teach it, what we're teaching and how much we're asking these guys to know. We have really smart guys. If really smart guys are making mistakes, we've got to teach it better."
Last season, the Ravens finished fourth in the NFL in average yards per carry (4.7). After rushing the ball 20 times for 43 yards Sunday against the Steelers, Baltimore is 30th in average yards per rush (3.6) this season.
It's not for a lack of trying. Last year, Baltimore ran the ball 324 times through 12 games. This season, they've rushed 359 times, seventh-most in the league.
The Ravens won't give up on the ground game despite its struggles.
"We have to find a running game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said on his WBAL radio show. "That to me is completely unacceptable for the type of football team we want to be and we need to be."
Cameron agreed, saying "we've got to get better." He said coaches and players have all had discussions this week about their desire to jumpstart the ground attack.
"We've got to make some adjustments or nothing's going to improve," Cameron said. "Our guys are the right kind of guys. They try to do what we're asking them to do. I'm confident we're going to get it done as we want to get it done."
Here are some of the issues the Ravens are working on.
The Ravens have shown spurts of running prowess, such as when they put the game away against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with four rushes for 29 yards on the final drive.
Other times, it's been stagnant.
Cameron said there should be a rhythm with the running game, which they haven't established.
"We have to block more consistently, courses can be a little more consistent," Cameron said. "There's some real technical stuff to being a good running team we need to do more consistently."
Part of what has thrown the offense off track at times is false starts. The Ravens have 20 on the season, including four at home against Pittsburgh.
"That is a major emphasis that we have to solve," Cameron said. "False starts have to stop."
The loss of 6-foot-9, 340-pound tackle Jared Gaither to injury has altered the offensive line. It moved the hard-nosed Marshal Yanda to tackle and Chris Chester (a converted tight end) to guard. In terms of pure size, it's a loss of 25 pounds and six inches on the line.
The Ravens simply don't have as big of linemen, and specifically tackles, as in years past. In 2008, Willie Anderson (6-foot-5, 340) was at right tackle and Adam Terry (6-8, 335) was a backup. This year, reservesTony Moll, Bryan Mattison and Oniel Cousins are each listed at 315 pounds.
"We're really different than we've been from a running perspective the last two years," Cameron said. "There's a lot of big tackles that are no longer here. That's not an excuse. We're just different."
It's a difference, but Cameron didn't use it as an excuse. He agrees with Harbaugh, who said the Ravens "have to become a more physical offense, period."
The Ravens rank 27th in the NFL in converting first downs via rush in third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations. They have moved the chains on eight of 14 chances.
By comparison, the Houston Texans (1st in the NFL) are converting 94 percent of the time (15 for 16).
The Ravens are also 30th in the NFL in goal-to-go situations, scoring touchdowns on eight of 16 chances.
It's a drastic change from previous seasons, when the Ravens were among the league's best in those areas. The Ravens have the runners to be successful with Ray Rice, 235-pounder Willis McGahee and two-time Pro Bowler and 260-pounder Le'Ron McClain.
"Good running teams can run it when people know they're going to run it," Cameron said.
- Long Runs
The Ravens are tied for 30th in the NFL in runs over 10 yards. They don't have a rush of more than 30 yards this season and Rice has two runs of more than 20 yards, coming in Weeks 2 and 3.
Cameron said part of the reason is the Ravens have played more 3-4 defenses this year, which pride themselves on not allowing big runs. They also haven't seen as much man-coverage as last year, which can leave a defense susceptible in the secondary.
In order to get more long runs, there has to first be an improvement overall in gaining the five or seven-yard gains that act as "body blows" that will eventually soften up a defense later in games, Cameron said.
"[If you] focus on execution, fundamentals and technique , [then] points come," Cameron said. "Focus on scoring and you make it hard on yourself. You try too hard."