The entire Ravens offense sat together early this week and watchedthe 13-3 loss to Cleveland. It wasn't a fun meeting. But it was necessary.
Baltimore has been the NFL's lowest-scoring team over the past three weeks, with just two touchdowns and averaging 9.7 points. Collectively, the Ravens are still in a good place at 9-5, just a game out of first place in the AFC North and on the verge of clinching a playoff berth.
Yet, there's an undeniable a sense of urgency looming over players and coaches with just three games left in the regular season heading into Saturday afternoon's game against the Falcons. If their offense remains as low-scoring as it's been recently, the Ravens can only fly so far.
"You have to have tough conversations after the (Cleveland) game," Pro Bowl fullback Pat Ricard said. "We watched the whole game as an offense, play by play, everyone in the room, talking it out. Trying to figure out what went wrong, what went right. You have to have the hard talk.
"We trust the coaches. When the plays are called, we have to get it done. We're moving the ball well. When we get in the red zone, we just have to tighten it up and get points."
The Ravens have the NFL's fewest passing yards over the past three weeks (134.0 per game), and for the season they rank 29th in red zone scoring percentage (28.57%).
Fixing their issues became even more challenging Tuesday, when wide receiver Devin Duvernay (foot) broke his foot and went on injured reserve, joining No. 1 receiver Rashod Bateman (foot), who was lost for the season in October. The Ravens will also be without Lamar Jackson (foot) fora third straight game on Saturday, and his unique abilities as a playmaker have clearly been missed.
Without Bateman and now Duvernay to defend, Ravens opponents are even more inclined to double down on defending three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (61 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns). Andrews is clearly one of the game's premier tight ends, but he doesn't have a touchdown since Week 6. He's being double covered more than ever, and the Ravens aren't making opponents pay by connecting consistently with other targets who are being single covered.
Can the Ravens fix this? They believe so, but it needs to start by becoming more efficient in the red zone. When Tyler Huntley has an open receiver against the Falcons, it will be imperative for him to make a good throw. The same will be true with Jackson whenever he returns.
Meanwhile, it doesn't have to be the same player every week, but more of Baltimore's targets in the passing game will need to step up like they have done earlier this season. Demarcus Robinson had nine catches for 128 yards against Carolina in Week 11. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely had seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay in Week 8. Those two, along with veteran wideouts DeSean Jackson and Sammy Watkins, are among those who will be needed to make plays down the stretch.
With their defense, special teams and running attack, the Ravens don't need one of the league's most prolific passing games to be a legitimate contender. They have already beaten the Bengals this season, and they led the Bills by 17 points before losing, 23-20, in Week 4. But they have to be more efficient.
Meanwhile, the Ravens' second-ranked running attack gives them a solid foundation to build on. Baltimore's offensive line has been dominant, ranked as the top offensive line in the AFC heading into Week 16 by Pro Football Focus. Using his vision to find the holes provided by that offensive line, J.K. Dobbins has rushed for more than 100 yards in two straight games, and the Ravens believe they can run against anyone.
"We're doing a lot of things right if you watch our run game right now," Ricard said. "The way the offensive line, the tight ends, myself, the way the backs are hitting it, it's unbelievable. It's so much fun to watch. That's why for me, it's so frustrating that we're not putting up points on the board."
But even the running game hasn't been perfect. The Ravens have run the ball effectively between the 20's, but they've been stymied on the ground at crucial moments in the red zone, like in Cleveland when Ricard was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the 7-yard line.
The red zone is often the toughest part of the field to gain yards on the ground, but Roman says the Ravens must find a way.
"We have to run the ball better in the red zone," Roman said. "That's one of our biggest issues right now. We had discussion about that today as an offense; we're running the ball up and down the field, [then] we get in the red zone, and it's one thing here, one thing there. That's when we have to tighten our screws down."
In Week 13 against Denver, the Ravens struggled offensively for almost the entire game, then put together a 91-yard drive on their final possession to win, 10-9. That's a sign the Ravens' offense can respond to adversity, and now they're being challenged to do it again.
"Two weeks ago when we had to go down and put a 91-yard drive together, we had to throw the ball; we had to lean on the passing game," Roman said. "Our guys are moving the ball probably as good as anybody; we just have to finish those drives and take care of the little things and avoid shooting ourselves in the foot."