It will be interesting to see how the Ravens respond to their worst offensive game of the season.
Through the first four games, the Ravens were averaging 30.7 points per game and quarterback Joe Flacco was off to one of the best starts of his career. Even with their running game not clicking as expected, new playmakers John Brown, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV, and a deep tight end corps gave Flacco more than enough options to work with. In September, scoring enough points was not an issue.
However, in Cleveland, points were hard to come by for the Ravens in a 12-9 overtime loss. Dropped passes by Crabtree became a major issue. The run game still hit a wall at times. A red-zone offense that went a historic 13-for-13 at the start of the season has turned the ball over on the goal line in back-to-back weeks.
Suddenly, the Ravens have gone more than seven quarters since their last touchdown, which came in the first quarter in Week 4 against the Steelers.
Are the Ravens’ recent offensive woes just a temporary blip in a long season, or a reason for concern?
Wednesday was the Ravens’ first practice since returning from Cleveland and watching the tape. Flacco expressed confidence Wednesday that the offensive problems would be rectified quickly, as the Ravens prepared for Sunday’s road game against the Tennessee Titans.
“First of all, our offensive line is doing a really good job,” Flacco said. “They’re staying on guys. There are so many things we’re doing well, and I always say it starts up front and, those guys are playing really, really well. As long as those guys can continue to do that, then I think everything else kind of falls in place.”
Teammates are being supportive of Crabtree, who plays a key role in the offense as a possession receiver and red-zone threat. Crabtree had three crucial drops Sunday, the final occurring in the end zone with a minute left in regulation, squandering the potential game-winning touchdown.
Until Crabtree becomes more consistent, opponents have even more reason to double-team Brown, as the Browns did Sunday. Brown was limited to four catches for 58 yards on Sunday, even though Flacco targeted him 14 times.
Flacco made it clear Wednesday that he has not lost confidence in Crabtree, who came to Flacco on the flight back from Cleveland to talk about the issue.
“I’m still going his way when it calls for it,” Flacco said. “We’re all out there trying to do our part to make plays that are going to change the game. I think sometimes you just have to relax, let the game come to you. Mike’s got great hands. You see him out here, catching, he’s got one of the surest pair of hands I’ve ever seen. It’s just about relaxing, letting the game come to you, not trying to do too much. I think it’s something that he’ll definitely get over.
“We’re a very prideful group, and he’s a very prideful person. Works very hard at what he does. That’s not the issue. If that was the issue, that might need to be addressed, but that’s not it. It’s just something that we have to overcome together.”
The lack of efficiency and explosiveness in the Ravens’ running game is another area that needs improvement, as only two teams are averaging less than the Ravens’ 3.4 yards per carry. Alex Collins has the Ravens’ longest run of the season at 19 yards, and the Ravens are the only NFL team that does not have a running play that has netted at least 20 yards.
Against the Browns, the Ravens had nine running plays that gained two yards or less. It is hard to keep stick with the run, even in a close game, when so many running plays are being stuffed, but Collins believes the Ravens are close to breaking some big runs.
“It’s one player away, or one little mistake away from big yards or a big gain or possibly a touchdown,” Collins said. “That’s the most important thing, is that we just trust the game plan and trust the system and trust what our coaches have been teaching us.”
Flacco said the Ravens would not enter the Tennessee game, or any game, committed to calling a certain number of running plays. The Ravens believe they have enough offensive weapons to move the ball successfully, regardless of what plays are called. The issue is execution, not play-calling.
“The optimum pass attempts, and run attempts, is really whatever the hell gets you the win,” Flacco said. “In this day and age, 40 pass attempts is just normal.”
On Sunday, the Ravens will be looking to jumpstart their offense against former Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who is now the Titans’ defensive play-caller. Pees and the Ravens know each other well after eight years together, which will make Sunday an intriguing chess match between Pees’ defense and the Ravens’ offense. Flacco is not sure which side has the advantage, knowing each other so well. But he is certain both sides want to win badly.
“You’re dealing with prideful people. I think that everybody tends to think they have a leg up,” Flacco said.
The Ravens began the season making offensive success look easier than it was. Now they are looking for answers. But Flacco believes that with the Ravens’ talent, the answers are not far away.
“It starts with me,” Flacco said. “But as long as we can continue to rely on those guys up front playing that way, I don’t think it’s going to happen too much. I think we’re still a very confident group, ready to move forward.”