Even though the Ravens’ running game drew the majority of the attention for the team’s offensive struggles in 2013, the passing game can’t go blameless.
Baltimore ranked 18th in the NFL in passing yards, which isn’t awful. But it’s worse when you consider the Ravens ended eighth in attempts, necessitated by the team’s inability to run the ball and some of the deficits that created.
Quarterback Joe Flacco had his worst statistical season with a career-high 22 interceptions and just 19 touchdown passes, his fewest since his rookie year (2008). Flacco did pass for a career-best 3,912 yards, but that came on a career-worst 59.0 completion percentage.
It might’ve been a different story if the Ravens had any ground game to speak of, but the air attack didn’t help itself either as Flacco had difficulty in the first year of his $120.6 million contract.
“Like the running game, it probably all goes hand-in-hand,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We were not as good in the passing game as we need to be. We were not ‘on.’ I think Joe uses the word, ‘We’re off.’ We’re just a little off, too often. And that probably is a good way to describe it without getting into every single detail of every single route. That has all got to go together, whether it’s the way a route is run, whether it’s accuracy, whether it’s the way a play is read out, the way it’s organized, when it’s called, the protection, the ‘hots’ - all the things that go into those different things, we never got that together the way we need to.
“And if we’re going to be what we need to be going forward, we have to go to work on getting that done. And it’s not going to start in the OTAs - it’s got to start well before that. It’s got to start with the way we build the system, what we give to our guys, and what they work on in the offseason together. We’ve got to build in chemistry, precision, those kinds of things that you’re talking about. We’ve got to build those things in right out of the gates if we’re going to be a good passing team. And a good passing team doesn’t turn the ball over that many times. So, not just getting back to not turning the ball over, but even move forward and be more effective in what we’re doing.”
In 2012, the Ravens ranked 15th in both pass attempts and yards, but running was at the center of the offense. Baltimore finished 11th in rushing yards that season,
Part of the reason for the dip in passing production was personnel. The Ravens traded No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers last offseason because they didn’t have room for his cap hit, and then lost tight end Dennis Pitta for the majority of the season because of hip surgery.
Torrey Smith showed he has what it takes to lead a receiver corps. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown emerged as a key contributor, matching the Ravens’ rookie record with a team-best seven touchdown catches.
However, the loss of Pitta - Flacco’s go-to possession receiver - was a big one.
“Dennis is a really good player,” Harbaugh said. “Anytime you lose a really good player that’s a key, integral part of what you’re doing ... You better understand that injuries are going to happen, but I don’t know that we necessarily had a go-to guy in the slot that was really a good answer to replace Dennis when he got hurt. That’s why we went out and we got Dallas (Clark) and we got Brandon Stokley right away. We knew we had to do that.
“Those guys really worked hard and did a heck of a job. Brandon just couldn’t get healthy, and I thought Dallas, as the year went on, made some big plays for us. Replacing Dennis Pitta was tough for us, and it probably threw us off a little bit.”
Pitta finished with 20 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown after returning for the last four games of the season. He now becomes a free agent with his rookie contract expired. Re-signing Pitta (and maybe adding another elite receiver) could be critically important for the Ravens, especially after they had so much trouble replacing him this season.
“Football-wise, Dennis is a really good player,” Harbaugh said. “Like I said before, we’re not really interested in losing really good players. As a coach, yes, it’s important.”
Update: Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is a popular head coaching candidate so far this offseason.
Having already interviewed for openings with the Lions and Redskins, Caldwell will interview with the Titans this week after Baltimore granted Tennessee permission today, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Caldwell went 26-22 and won an AFC championship in three seasons as Colts head coach (2009-11).