Give 'O' time to catch up

Ravens Weekend

October 03, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

In the first two games of the season, the Ravens' top three wide receivers made contributions. And then in Monday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Derrick Mason had eight catches and the other two receivers contributed just one each.

Now, everybody wants to know what went wrong and where fellow receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams and tight end Todd Heap were.

You know how it is here in Baltimore. You win a couple of games and everybody is printing Super Bowl tickets. You lose one and it's the apocalypse.

Patience, folks, and that's the message Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron delivered yesterday.

"We just missed some opportunities," Cameron said. "I just think it's a matter of those guys growing together with Joe [Flacco, their rookie quarterback]. I think we all understand that his is an offense in progress. We're building an offense. I wish you just put the magic wand on it and we'd be where we all want it to be."

That's not going to happen, and the Ravens understand they can't win a lot of games against good teams with the passing offense they displayed Monday night. Yet, at the same time, it's a realistic passing game because of the limitations.

The Ravens are still in safe mode with Flacco. They haven't asked him to make throws in tight windows. In fact, they aren't asking him to make many throws across the middle.

It's basic stuff, 10- to 15-yard curl and out patterns. When that doesn't work, it's drags underneath or passes in the flats after the receivers have cleared out. Nothing fancy. The only pretty stuff is the different formations.

It's all about high-percentage passes, and Mason runs those intermediate routes as well as any receiver in the NFL.

As the competition gets better, Cameron knows the Ravens have to become more daring. You might see more sophistication Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

"It's a process. I don't know how long it takes," Cameron said, "but it is a process with quarterbacks, your receivers and protection unit. And I think you'll see us continue to grow."

What stage are the Ravens at?

"I don't know," Cameron said. "I do feel that people realize we're going to throw it upfield, and I think the more we do it, the better we're going to get at it. The good news is that we were getting good separation up the field when the ball was coming out."

Clayton was open in the end zone against the Steelers, but Flacco threw a bad pass. Williams had an opportunity, but Flacco floated the ball too high and misread the safety coming over, which he did twice Monday.

Cameron wants to spread the ball around. He wants all his receivers involved. But before the Ravens commit to the pass, they have to pass-block, and that was a problem against the Steelers.

The Ravens gave up five sacks against Pittsburgh after giving up one in the first two games. The Ravens had to go to maximum protection, sometimes keeping in Heap or the running backs to help block with their offensive tackles.

Heap didn't catch a pass against the Steelers and has only three receptions for 37 yards this season. That's far below expectations for a player who was supposed to do for the Ravens what Antonio Gates did for the San Diego Chargers a few years ago.

"The tight end in this system is a football player," Cameron said. "We demand as much of a tight end as any system, and blocking is a huge part of that. And I've talked to Todd. When you get labeled as the receiving tight end, everybody looks at you as a receiver and measures your contribution in catches. Todd's contribution goes way beyond catches, and we just need to adjust our thinking a little bit."

There is more to it. The Ravens weren't very happy about Heap's missing practices in training camp, and Harbaugh let him know about it. There is a confidence factor missing in their relationship. Heap isn't totally sold on Harbaugh, and Harbaugh isn't totally sold on Heap.

It might get worse, but it's part of the growing process going on over at the Castle.

Right now, Mason has become Flacco's security blanket and will remain his No. 1 option. But, according to Cameron, Williams is finally starting to look completely healthy again after several leg injuries that began in training camp.

Clayton was the top option on some plays and was open, but Flacco didn't have time to throw. Cameron also said Heap once slid down the backside for what would have been about a 40-yard play, but Flacco's pass was tipped at the last second.

It was just another blown opportunity. But while a lot of others are worried, Cameron seemed calm and confident about the development of the Ravens' passing game. He says the Titans have as good a defense as any the Ravens will face this season, but Cameron wasn't sweating.

He was more concerned about easing some growing pains.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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