Eisenberg: Ravens Offense Needs to be More Aggressive, But Can't Sacrifice Balance


It wasn't clear if Joe Flacco was trying to convince himself or send a message to his teammates and the Ravens' coaches with his comments about the offense needing to be more aggressive.

But regardless of who he was talking to, Flacco clearly was saying he'd had enough of the status quo.

"We need to go after it," he told reporters last week. "We can't sit back and just expect us not to lose football games. We've got to go attack."

There's ample evidence illustrating the Ravens' conservative offensive approach so far in 2017. Flacco's average of 6.9 air yards per pass attempt is the league's second-lowest figure, according to NextGen Stats.  Thirty-one other quarterbacks have completed more passes covering more than 20 yards.

As they emerge from their bye with realistic playoff prospects despite a 4-5 record, the Ravens clearly need a more threatening passing game. Their defense and special teams are solid. They've successfully rebooted their running game, which is ranked No. 10 in the league. But without a consistent downfield passing game, the offense has struggled overall.

Despite those issues, Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week that he continues to be able to envision the offense the Ravens want to deploy. The chance of him seeing it seemingly are improved now that wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are all finally healthy at the same time and running back Danny Woodhead is expected back soon.

"I'm excited for the fact that we have our offensive weapons back," Harbaugh said Monday. "We need guys on the field. We need our guys out there making plays."

The quarterback obviously is ready to let it fly. Check out of checkdown mode, if you will.

"We're a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams that are in this position and feel they have nothing to lose – and we should feel that way. We've got to go out there and leave it all out there," Flacco said last week.

His words, no doubt, were cheered by everyone from the Ravens receivers, who want more chances, to the fans, who want more excitement.

But I would caution against believing that he said salvation lies in simply forgoing caution and going with an all-out air attack. No, Flacco and the Ravens have learned an important lesson about that in the past few years - namely, that it doesn't work.

They're 3-11 over the past two seasons when Flacco attempts at least 40 passes. They're 9-2 over the same period when Flacco attempts fewer than 40 passes.

It's clear the goal shouldn't be a reliance on one element over another, but rather, a balance between a running game that is already effective this year and a passing game that needs to be stretched.

Flacco isn't suggesting a return to the pass-happy blueprint of a year ago. He's saying the Ravens need to be more aggressive *when *they pass the ball. Big difference.

Remember when then-Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak used a strong ground game to set up the pass in 2014? The Ravens ranked in the top 10 in rushing, No. 13 in passing and set a franchise record for points in a season.

No, life isn't so perfect that the Ravens can just flip a switch and start replicating that performance now that everyone is healthy. Their offense has been much too inconsistent so far to project that.

But the quality of the running game does offer hope for better days ahead, as do Wallace and Maclin, veterans with track records of delivering big plays.

For sure, a lot of things need to go right, starting with the offensive line protecting Flacco better. The Tennessee Titans threw him off with a persistent pass rush in the Ravens' last game. You can be sure the Green Bay Packers will bring more heat Sunday.

Flacco also has to make fewer mistakes, and his receivers need to catch balls that hit them in the hands.

Do the Ravens need to "attack" more? No doubt about it.

But the key word, as always, is balance.

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