As quarterback Joe Flacco dissected what went wrong in Sunday's 28-27 loss to the Oakland Raiders, he said the Ravens need more chunk plays on offense.
The Ravens have primarily used a dink-and-dunk passing approach through the first quarter of the season, and they struggled to consistently move the football Sunday against the Raiders. The passing game was out of sync for much of the day, and Flacco stressed that the Ravens need some more big plays to spark the unit.
"We just make it so tough on ourselves," Flacco said. "We throw the ball 50 times, and we only have 300 yards. You know, we have to move the ball down the field so methodically."
Flacco finished Sunday's game completing 32 of his 52 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown, but the trend of short passes extends beyond the Raiders game. Baltimore has averaged just 5.66 yards per pass play, which ranks 30th in the NFL.
The Ravens came into this season focused on getting the ball out of Flacco's hands quickly. Flacco worked on timing without his receivers throughout the summer, and the Ravens have utilized the quick passing game more than previous seasons.
Flacco is getting rid of the ball in 2.40 seconds, on average, which ranks as the 10th fastest in the NFL. It's the shortest amount of time the nine-year veteran has held the ball in the pocket per passing attempt, according to Pro Football Focus.
Only Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown more pass attempts (126) than Flacco (118) when holding the ball for less than 2.5 seconds.
"I think that's just who we are right now," Flacco said. "We've just got to get jelled up more, so we're getting some more yards after catch and things like that on some of those short passes."
The emphasis on getting the ball out of Flacco's hands quickly isn't a shock – especially given that he's coming back from a torn ACL – but it has been somewhat surprising that the Ravens haven't hit on more deep attempts.
Adding speedsters Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore this offseason was expected to help stretch the field, but the Ravens haven't had much success with the downfield passing game. The 66-yard touchdown to Wallace in Week 1 has been the only deep ball touchdown.
"We have speed out there, and we have to start hitting them," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Joe is making a great point; you have to get big plays in this league. That is what we are searching for. We really think we have the players to do it."
Harbaugh also pointed out that Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman is calling for deep shots in the game plan. Flacco has thrown 16 passes traveling more than 20 yards, which actually ranks second-most in the NFL.
Even if the Ravens aren't connecting on the big plays, Harbaugh stressed that they're part of the game plan.
"We called a bunch of them," Harbaugh said. "There is no doubt about that. We threw a few of them. Some of them we weren't able to get off, and some of them, we had to checkdown. We have to keep calling them."
Part of the challenge in hitting the big plays is that the Ravens have seen teams try to take away the vertical threats. Both Jacksonville and Oakland used a defense with two deep safeties designed to keep big plays in front of them.
"We are not really seeing a lot of man coverage, and it is hard to run deep routes against zone coverage because that plays into their hands," Smith said.
Another consideration is that the Ravens went through training camp without all of their offensive weapons. Smith missed most of camp recovering from the torn Achilles and Perriman was sidelined with a knee issue. Tight ends Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams also missed time with various injuries.
Having limited time with Flacco may have put the receiving corps at a disadvantage going into the season, and the Ravens also had to figure out how to best use all of their weapons.
After going through some of the challenges through the first four games, the Ravens hope they're gaining clarity about how to put their targets in the best positions to open up big plays in the coming weeks.
"[A]fter four weeks, I think you start to get an idea of what you are really good at, especially with our receivers coming to the table late through training camp and all that," Harbaugh said. "I feel like we all can see now what we have and how to utilize these guys. I want to get consistent at what we were doing.
"I want us to get out there and look certain and understand how we are going to execute things and get good at it."