Needing To Heal

Offense's bruises beyond injuries

Ravens Analysis

October 09, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Tight end Todd Heap could be returning from a strained hamstring this week, tackle Jonathan Ogden has continued to make progress with his sore left foot and quarterback Steve McNair has avoided tweaking his groin injury.

But when it comes to evaluating the health of the Ravens' offense, it goes beyond bumps and bruises.

The Ravens have no offensive touchdowns in their past 13 series, a span of 88 plays.

They have five offensive touchdowns this season, tied for the third-lowest total in the NFL.

And dating to last season, they have been held without an offensive touchdown in three of their past seven games (including playoffs).

After months of pumping up this offense as a fleet-footed one, the Ravens have continually pulled up lame where it counts the most - around the goal line.

"Countless hours are being put on it in terms of evaluation and what can we do," coach Brian Billick said at yesterday's news conference. "This team is playing pretty well. That's the one thing [the lack of touchdowns] where we have left ourselves vulnerable. We have moved the ball well, but we have to come up with touchdowns instead of field goals." [Please see RAVENS, 6E] The frustrating part is that the Ravens are 11th in total offense (346.2 yards per game) but rank 21st in scoring offense (17.6 points).

Those statistics point to a lack of direction.

The Ravens rely more on the pass this season, but they don't stretch defenses downfield. They have had consistent success with running back Willis McGahee, but they seem hesitant to give him the ball repeatedly.

Until the Ravens find an identity, they probably won't find the end zone with regularity.

"It's always disappointment when you don't get in the end zone," McGahee said. "We got to work on that. We got to get more consistent. We always drive down there, but we never finish."

Here are other possible explanations for the Ravens' touchdown-challenged offense:

No more spark with Billick

When Billick fired Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator nearly a year ago, the Ravens played with a renewed sense of urgency. In Billick's first nine games as the play-caller, the Ravens scored 22 touchdowns.

That same level of enthusiasm and production is gone these days. In Billick's past seven games calling the shots, the Ravens have scored five offensive touchdowns.

When Billick took over the offense, players talked about how they became more aggressive with the game plans. Now, it seems as if the Ravens' favorite play is the pass route that falls 1 yard short of the first down.

No big plays with McNair

One big change from past seasons has been the Ravens' shift to a pass-first approach.

McNair is fourth in the NFL in average pass attempts per game (39.2), and the Ravens have put the ball squarely in his hands whether they were trailing in Cleveland or leading in San Francisco.

But the Ravens appear content to be an efficient passing attack instead of an electric one. McNair ranks 26th in average yards per pass attempt (5.9), which underlines the fact that the Ravens don't look downfield often.

Asked whether the short completions are by design, Billick said: "Steve is doing an excellent job. I'm not trying to sound catty about it. But [the 49ers] get paid to stop you, and [San Francisco coach] Mike Nolan is doing a great job with that defense. We'd like to get some bigger plays downfield, obviously, but they configured themselves in a way ... that changed the game plan quite a deal."

No consistency in red zone

By not hitting the 20- to 30-yard touchdown passes, the Ravens have no margin for error when they march into the red zone.

The Ravens have reached the end zone once in their past six trips inside the 20-yard line, dropping them to the No. 28 red-zone offense in the NFL. With McNair, the Ravens have three touchdowns in 12 red-zone trips.

"We got a long way to go in the red zone, but you can't pinpoint one person, one call, one nothing," McNair said. "We just have to get together and put a package together and continue to improve. The thing is we still got time to work on it. It's frustrating to get down there and then score three points. But it happens. This is the NFL."

No luck with injuries

The Ravens' offense was running close to full strength for most of last season, losing three starters for at least one game in a relatively healthy year.

Five weeks into this season, the Ravens have already matched that total, watching Ogden, Heap and McNair get sidelined for at least one game with an injury.

But the strong teams fight through adversity. Without Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Joseph Addai, the Indianapolis Colts still scored at will in a 33-14 win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Asked how many more injuries the Ravens can take, McNair said: "I don't know. Let's hope we can get some guys back. It's taking a toll."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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