The Ravens knew coming into the season that they wanted to run the ball more and better. They knew they wanted to play to their strength – a beefed-up defense.
With the rushing attack humming, now Baltimore needs more from its passing attack.
The Ravens rank 31st in the league in passing offense, averaging just 160 yards per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco's eight interceptions are tied for the second-most in the league. The Ravens have six drops, which also puts them in an unwanted top 10.
While Baltimore's rushing attack has been strong, ranking seventh in the league, its offense is being held back by the lack of an aerial threat, and it was quite evident in Sunday's overtime loss to the Chicago Bears.
"We all have to do a better job of finding a way to get the passing game going," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We are running the ball pretty well … but we have to find some yards in the passing game."
The Ravens' best passing game came in Oakland. Flacco hit a 52-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage and the unit rolled from there. Protected well, Flacco was 19-of-26 for 222 yards and the offense generated 23 points.
But just a week later, the passing game once again looked dreadful. The Ravens didn't score a single touchdown against the Bears. Receivers didn't get open often enough. Flacco was 24-of-41 for 180 yards and two interceptions that weren't his fault. Both interceptions bounced off his receivers' hands.
The Ravens offense has been able to perform when given big leads (in Cincinnati, versus Cleveland, in Oakland) because it could run the ball and grind out the clock in the second half. But when Baltimore has had to play from behind, and thus lean more on the passing attack, it has fallen flat in three losses.
So what's the solution? That is much harder to figure out, but the Ravens know what they must attack.
Harbaugh said the Ravens have to find more big plays. They also need to have the chain-moving, consistent completions underneath to create more first downs. They need play-action passes, quick game, concept passes, good protection – all of it.
"When you put those things together, and they are clicking and the quarterback is playing, the passing game can look great," Harbaugh said. "When one or two things are off and you don't have separation or you don't quite get protection, that is when things don't look good at all. When you have those things happening sporadically over the course of the whole game – different things and different plays – then it can look bad."
The Ravens have enough speed with receivers Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin. After the first quarter of the season, when Baltimore hardly attempted deep passes, the Ravens made more of a commitment to it in Oakland and struck with two 50-plus-yard gains to Wallace.
Against Chicago, Harbaugh said the Bears were playing top-down zone coverage to take away the deep game. There were still some deep calls and some shots taken, but the Ravens didn't make the plays.
On one, Perriman easily got behind Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, but the ball went off his hands and was picked off. Chris Moore also had a chance for a clutch 15-yard catch on a comeback, but the ball ricocheted off his pads, was picked off and returned 90 yards for a touchdown.
On Monday, Harbaugh reiterated that catching the ball is a "prerequisite" for the job.
"It is one thing to take the punches; it is another thing to land the punches," he said of taking deep shots. "You have to land some punches, and we have to find a way to do that."
It's more than just finding a deep passing attack, which has been much talked about around Baltimore. The intermediate and short stuff has been a struggle as well. The Ravens' 106 first downs this season rank 20th in the league.
Maclin's absence Sunday because of a shoulder injury also hindered the quick passing game, particularly over the middle. At times, there's also been protection problems along a banged-up offensive line.
For example, on a key third-and-2 in overtime – the Ravens' final offensive play – rookie fifth-round guard Jermaine Eluemunor was quickly beaten inside, forcing Flacco to throw the ball quicker than he wanted and resulting in an incompletion to Moore, who would have been wide open a fraction of a second later.
Eluemunor is starting because Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda (ankle, injured reserve) and backup Matt Skura (knee) are both injured. The Ravens are also without two other guards, Alex Lewis and rookie fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa.
The Ravens haven't made clutch plays in the passing game, particularly in the red zone. Flacco hasn't thrown a touchdown pass the past two games and his four touchdowns this year are among the league's fewest for starters.
"Sometimes it's protection, sometimes a guy running a route well, sometimes it's running the right route. We had a couple route errors down there by a couple guys – that doesn't go over very well," Harbaugh said.
"Sometimes you have to come up with a throw and a catch. Sometimes it's a scramble play. All those things happen in the red zone, and extended plays are big in the red zone. So, we're just not making the plays we need to make down there, and it's everybody – coaches and players."
As of now, the Ravens' 160 passing yards per game is the third-lowest mark in franchise history. In 2003 and 2004, with Kyle Boller at the helm, Baltimore averaged 140.9 and 144.5 yards per game, respectively.
But, as Harbaugh said Monday, there's still a lot of season left to turn it around.
"Every week is a different week," he said. "We have good players, we have good coaches. We are capable of putting together a good passing attack. We will go to work on doing it. It is a week-to-week game. We need to find a passing game for Minnesota."