When Joe Flacco attempts 50 passes and Ray Rice is nowhere to be found, it’s a fair assumption that something’s wrong with the Ravens offensively.
On Sunday, Baltimore called just nine rushing plays with only two coming after halftime for the fewest total runs in a single game in team history. The previous low was 12.
The Ravens finished with only 24 yards on the ground to match the second-fewest they’ve ever gained and least since coming up with just 14 at Tennessee on Sept. 18, 2005.
Because of that record-low production, coach John Harbaugh doesn’t at all regret abandoning the running game in the loss to the Bills.
“That’s my call all the way. I just felt like we weren’t running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Looking back on it, I feel the same way, and after watching the tape, I feel we did exactly the right thing to try to win that game. So no second-guessing myself on that. That was my decision and that’s the way we went with it. So if you feel like we should’ve run the ball more in the second half, then I definitely respect that opinion, but it didn’t look that way to me. So that’s what we did.”
The Ravens’ running game continues to be a problem a quarter of the way through the season.
Baltimore ranks 28th in the NFL with 64 rushing yards per contest and 30th in the league with just 2.6 yards per carry. And this is coming from a unit that includes Rice, who ranked in NFL’s top 10 in rushing yards each season from 2009-11 and was in the league’s top 10 in yards from scrimmage each of the last four seasons.
But Rice and the offensive line in front of him, as well as the assistant coaches, haven’t been able to get it going so far - something Harbaugh knows needs to change. And fast.
“We’ve just got to get better,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to go to work and improve and make good decisions on what we choose to do and how we choose to scheme it. Yes, we can game plan better. We can set formations up better to put our guys in position. I think our running backs can do a better job at running to the right spot and trusting the offensive line.
“But the bottom line is, it has nothing to do with style or technique or anything like that. It’s finding what our guys can do well with this group and doing it well. We’ll find a way to work it out. It’s a process. It’s going to be a year-long process.”
Harbaugh specifically expressed dissatisfaction with an offensive line that hasn’t performed close to the level it did during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run, not only where the running game is concerned.
Flacco was sacked four times Sunday and has absorbed 12 times overall this season. He also was intercepted a career-high five times with pressure in the pocket part of the reason.
The only difference on the line is Gino Gradkowski taking over at center for Matt Birk, who retired after 15 years in the league. Harbaugh weighed in on Gradkowski and the line overall.
“I think the whole O-line is disappointing right now,” he said. “There’s no one more disappointed than they are right now. We’ve got to run block better, we’ve got to pass block better. We felt like we were making strides, especially with pass blocking better. But we really didn’t do as good of a job in this game. We had too many mental mistakes - too many things that are basic protection rules that we understand and we should know that we have not been on the same page with.
“As far as Gino and how he fits into that, I think just what you’d expect from a young center. He’s done a good job physically. It hasn’t been too often where Gino’s been pushed around. He’s done a good job of getting out of starts, he’s done a good job of holding the point in there. It can always be better, some of his footwork things. I talk to him all the time. I think he could just come off the ball better. Sometimes he’s a little tentative with his footwork and he wants to stay in front of people, (I say), ‘So why don’t you get off the ball and move people a little bit?’ He’s capable of doing that. But it’s a difference between Gino and Matt (Birk) with the calls, and I think we’re feeling that in there right now. So Gino’s a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So that’s something that we’re working through.
“The rest of the offensive line, we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to run block better, we’ve got to make decisions scheme-wise about what’s best for our guys to do, exactly what schemes those are, we’ve got to come off the ball in the run game a lot better than we’re doing and we’ve got to be more physical with the inside part of our pass protection and give Joe more depth to the pocket and keep Joe more clean. Joe does not need to be under the pressure he’s under. Actually, our protection index had been pretty good going into this game, but this game, it was not acceptable.”
Despite those struggles, the Ravens are still 2-2 and tied with Cleveland and Cincinnati atop the AFC North. Pittsburgh sits two games back at 0-4.
“It’s a consolation, no doubt,” Harbaugh said. “It’s week-to-week in the National Football League, just like you are saying. Here, we sit, we are tied for the lead in our division with a tiebreaker on Cleveland. If I’m in Pittsburgh, I’m looking at it like, ‘We’re two games out of the lead in our division. We’re right there.’ Whoever wins the division games is going to win the division.
“We can do our cause a whole lot of good by going down to Miami, playing our best and winning the football game. That’s going to be our objective.”