Air Flacco offense remains in the wings

Ravens have lofty goals, will wait to open up the offense

August 21, 2010|Peter Schmuck

LANDOVER — — If you were hoping to see the Ravens spread their offensive wings on Saturday night, you're going to have to wait at least until the New York Giants get to town next weekend.

Joe Flacco and the first-team offense poked at the Washington Redskins for much of the first half of Saturday night's 23-3 preseason victory at FedEx Field, but there were only hints of the dynamic vertical passing game that everybody assumed the Ravens would feature each week once they beefed up the receiver corps with the addition of Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth.

OK, maybe some of us were expecting a little too much from the second preseason game. I know I was, but that's because I've been hearing for years how the Ravens just needed another go-to receiver and they would suddenly morph into the Indianapolis Colts … or at least the New England Patriots.

On this night, they pretty much morphed into the 2009 Ravens. Flacco spent much of his time dropping the ball underneath and making sure he didn't stay in the pocket too long. He completed a 21-yard pass to Boldin in the second quarter, but the only Ravens touchdown in the first half was set up by a fake punt that Haruki Nakamura took 51 yards to the Redskins 1.

Flacco was more impressive in the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers — completing eight of 12 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown — but he also absorbed two of the six sacks that were surrendered by the Ravens offensive line, so it's quite understandable that the Ravens erred on the side of keeping him upright on Saturday night.

He went pretty much untouched during his five first-half possessions, which was probably the idea. The Redskins have some dynamic pass rushers and I'm guessing the last thing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wanted to do at halftime was try to pry one of them out of Flacco's rib cage.

Still, the issue will remain open until the Ravens show — on a week-to-week basis — that they can mount the kind of explosive offensive attack that allows the great teams to gloss over their shortcomings when it really counts.

The Ravens aspire to be that kind of team, but the sketchy performance of the offensive line in the Carolina game had to give John Harbaugh pause, at least until the O-line issues get figured out. In the meantime, look for the offense to resemble the 2009 model, with the focus remaining largely on running back Ray Rice and the short passing game.

If you doubt that, consider that the Ravens opened things up considerably after veteran backup Marc Bulger entered the game late in the first half. He was throwing the ball all over the place and picking up big chunks of yardage, which was partly because he was working against the second team defense and — you have to think — partly because he's the second-string guy. That doesn't make him expendable, but there's a reason why the first-team guys don't play that much in the first two preseason games.

Maybe that's not completely satisfying, not when Ravens fans have been waiting for Flacco to evolve into one of the truly elite quarterbacks, but it makes perfect sense. The Ravens face a tough early schedule, and they cannot afford to have Flacco hobbled like he was after the Vikings game last year (sprained ankle) or dealing with chronic pain like he did with that ugly late-season thigh bruise.

Job 1 during the preseason is to make sure that Flacco shows up for the season opener against the Jets without a mark on him. The same goes for Rice. The Ravens fancy themselves a Super Bowl contender, but they will only be in that mix as long as they can keep their key offensive personnel off the PUP list and injured reserve.

If that means that the preseason isn't going to be as exciting as we might like, that's a small price to pay for a third straight successful season of the Harbaugh era.

It would have been nice to see Flacco shoot up the Redskins defense for 200 yards, especially with quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn making his return to FedEx for the first time since he was rudely dismissed as Redskins head coach at the end of last season, but it was pretty obvious on Saturday night that the Ravens have their eyes on a bigger prize.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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