So much was made of the Ravens’ decision to go with a primarily no-huddle offense this season.
Throughout mini-camps and the preseason, Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron talked about how the faster tempo is something that could benefit the team. Flacco is more comfortable at that pace and the Ravens possess more than enough weapons to allow them to stretch the field and keep defenses on their heels.
For the most part, the strategy has worked.
Baltimore entered its 43-13 loss to the Texans ranked eighth in the NFL in total offense (385 yards per game) and ninth with 26.8 points per game. Last Sunday’s underwhelming performance sunk the team to 11th in points and 17th in yards.
The benefit of the philosophy is obvious: The Ravens are scoring more and rolling up more yards than previous Baltimore teams. The downside has been that they’re doing it with quick-strike drives that leave a struggling defense on the field for much longer than the coaches might like.
Because of the Ravens’ difficulty stopping the run - they’ve allowed 622 yards on the ground over the last three games and 1,000 during their 5-2 start - opponents are controlling time of possession by a wide margin.
Baltimore ranks last in the league, holding the ball just 26:06 per game while the defense is on the field an average of 33:54, third-most in the NFL.
With cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis expected to miss the rest of the season and other key defensive players (Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and Jimmy Smith among them) ailing, that begs a question: Should the Ravens consider straying from the hurry-up and focus more on possessing the ball to keep the defense off the field?
It’s possible the last part of that conundrum has never been a consideration for the Ravens. Keeping the defense off the field? The turnovers, points and other big plays that unit has always produced have been the catalyst of the club’s success.
This year, that isn’t the case. Before the team broke for the bye, coach John Harbaugh addressed whether the Ravens’ defensive woes might lead to a change in offensive strategy.
“Yes, it could. That’s something that we probably have to look at and kind of get a grip on,” he said. “The other way you could look at it is you are going to go out and try to score as many points as you can. How do you perceive that? I’m not looking at it either way, because I have confidence in our defense. All three phases work together but also stand on their own. We want all three phases, like I’ve said before, to play as well as they can possibly play.
“We want to score as many points as we can without turning the ball over. We want to shut people down without giving up big plays. We want to play great special teams, and in doing that, we want to keep pressure on our opponent, keep them down in their end as much as we can and play field position football. That’s the big picture. How we use the tools that we have to make all of those things work is what we have to come to grips with, and that’s something that I have to make some good decisions about.”
So, in summary, Harbaugh indicated the team is definitely thinking about making some changes. What those changes could be remain to be seen.
The primary possibility would be to increase running back Ray Rice’s carries, get fullback Vonta Leach on the field more and return to more of a smash-mouth game even though the air attack has been effective.
Flacco has teamed well with Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and the rest of a deep receiving corps to all of a sudden give the Ravens an offense to respect. Making Rice’s legs the central focus might not change how much teams fear what the team can do, because those weapons would all still be there. Baltimore would still be capable of stretching the field, and Rice might even have more running room because of the respect given to this set of receivers.
But on the other hand, if it ain’t broke ...
So when the Ravens return to action Nov. 4 in Cleveland, that could be a major storyline worth watching. How they attack teams from here on out might change. It might not. There are strong cases for both. Which wins out will be known in the coming weeks.