When you’ve got a second-half lead, there’s a fine line between wanting to milk clock and ensure you don’t turn the ball over, and wanting to stay aggressive and put the opposing team away.
That’s a line that the Ravens have had trouble toeing at times this season.
On Saturday, the Ravens held a 17-0 lead over the Browns at halftime. They were dominating the game on both sides of the ball, and appeared poised to roll to an easy divisional win.
But Baltimore’s offense stalled coming out of the break, as they had to punt or turned the ball over on five of its six true second-half possessions (not counting the kneel-down drive at the end of the game).
What changed after halftime? Why did the Ravens put up just three second-half points and record only one drive of longer than 33 yards? Head coach John Harbaugh and some players have pointed to dropped passes and a couple missed opportunities in the passing game.
But quarterback Joe Flacco thinks the Ravens’ lack of aggressiveness in the third and fourth quarters caused the offensive decline.
“You know, we didn’t come out and play the way we wanted to in the second half, obviously,” Flacco said yesterday. “I think there have been games this year where we’ve come out and thrown the ball because we were down a lot, and you guys complained about it. Now this week, we kind of came out and we, honestly, played conservative. When we didn’t, we missed a couple plays, whether it was a drop or a missed throw here.
“I wish you guys would help me out and start complaining that we played too conservative so it would put pressure on our coaches to not do that.”
You got it, Joe.
In my mind, this might be the toughest part about being an offensive coordinator in the NFL - or really any coordinator, for that matter. When you’ve got a lead in the second half, how aggressive do you want to be?
If you come out and run the ball a ton to try and burn some clock and wear down the opposing defense (or, if you’re a defensive coordinator, play soft coverage and rush just three or four) and it backfires, you’ll be criticized for being too passive.
If you come out and throw the ball a ton to try and pile up points and put the opponent away (or blitz heavily to try and force the opposing quarterback to mistakes) and it backfires, you’ll be criticized for being reckless and now playing to the situation.
From an offensive perspective, the Ravens have Ray Rice in the backfield, who we all know can take one to the house any time he’s handed the ball. He can grind out yards and keep drives moving late in the game, taking valuable time off the clock.
But the key is balance. The Ravens can’t get too one-dimensional when it comes to their passing game (i.e. Flacco throwing 52 times) or lean too heavily on their running game. They need to have a mix, regardless of whether they’re leading or behind in the game.
When you’re up, that balance probably tilts more toward Rice and the running game. When you’re down, it shifts more toward Flacco and the passing attack. But there still has to be a balance.
For what it’s worth, the Ravens ran the ball 22 times in the second half on Saturday, compared to 12 passes.
“We’re getting better and better each week,” Flacco said. “We’ve got a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of going out there, executing plays and doing it for a full 60 minutes. I think if we do that, then we’ll be happy. We can’t let teams back in games. It helps those guys out when they get a special teams return for a touchdown. Just like that, they can be back in the game with one offensive drive. I think as long as we play as a team, and stop allowing those things, then we would have ran away with that game a little bit better.”