John Harbaugh Challenges Balance Questions


Balance is the goal in the NFL. It keeps defenses off-balance. It makes offenses multi-dimensional.

Last season, the Ravens were forced to abandon the run game because it was struggling so mightily, resulting in 619 passing attempts to 413 rushes.

This year is a different story, as Baltimore has enjoyed successes with its three-headed running attack in the backfield.

Head Coach John Harbaugh assured questioning reporters that the Ravens will run the ball this year, and cautioned them about putting too much stock in game-to-game balance. There is no magical number.

"If I would believe what you [reporters] and some others write, I would think we would have to have a certain number of passes every game, where we not be balanced," Harbaugh said. "But then I wouldn't know much about football."

The question arose after the Ravens threw the ball 38 times compared to 15 carries in Indianapolis. In the Ravens' three wins this season, they've run 99 times and passed 91 times. In their two losses, they've run 35 times and passed 100.

On the surface, the answer is to simply run more, keep more balance, and win. But it doesn't always work like that. Harbaugh's point is that there are a lot more factors that go into having balance.

"It is way too easy to sit there and go, 'Oh, they have to run the ball more. They only ran the ball a certain amount of times,'" Harbaugh said. "It's like, 'Can you take one more page and one more layer and turn it over and figure out what's going on?'"

Sometimes, a game plan will dictate throwing more or running more, based on the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent.

Sometimes, coaches expect the game to be a high-scoring contest, which would mean an offense must be prepared to score quickly. On Monday, Harbaugh thought Sunday's game in Indianapolis could turn out that way.

Sometimes, a team doesn't get enough offensive plays allow for into a rhythm and level the play-calling. That was partly the case last week. Baltimore ran a season-low 57 offensive plays due to turnovers and going 1-for-11 on third down.

Sometimes, a team builds a big lead because their passing game is going so well, then they run the ball a lot at the end of the game to run down the clock, and the final box score shows balance but it was really the aerial attack that won.

Sometimes, a team gets down early in the game and must score quickly to try to make up ground, so they're forced to pass the ball more.

Quarterback Joe Flacco made a nuanced point. He said balance indicates you played a good game, but a good game doesn't necessarily require balance.

"You always have to look at why," he said. "Why were there more passes? Why were there more runs? Why was it even?"

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's scheme is focused around having balance. He has long stressed the importance of running the ball, and he likes to line up in the same formation and call either passes or runs out of it to disguise intentions.

"The best thing for our football team and for us is to be balanced and for us to be unpredictable and not sit back there and throw it too much, because if we're doing that, we're probably in a bad situations," Kubiak said. "We're always looking for the balance, and I've got to do a better job than I did last week with that."

At the end of the day, Harbaugh assured fans that the Ravens will run the ball a lot this year. They'll certainly do it more than last season.

The Ravens are averaging 4.7 yards per carry, tied for eighth in the NFL. Baltimore's 125.6 rushing yards per game are ranked 12th. Harbaugh encouraged reporters and fans to look at the final run-pass stats when the season is over.

"We're going to be a running team," he said. "There's no question about it; we can run the football. But we're also going to be a passing team. We're going to pass the football really well, too. And we're going to try to win football games. That's what we're going to do."

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