How the Ravens can fix their offense in seven steps

December 09, 2010|By Mike Preston

It's December, grit time in the NFL, where the serious contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. The best team doesn't always win the Super Bowl, but often it's the hottest team that peaks in the final two months.

The Ravens (8-4) are contenders, but they're just simmering with a lot of other teams. The question is whether they can get hot. The defense has played well the past two weeks and seems to have hit its stride.

The offense?

Well, there are still some questions. The talent is there, but the Ravens have yet to find their niche. Coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have drawn a lot of criticism since Sunday night's loss to Pittsburgh.

There is no doubt both are good, respectable coaches, and certainly they have more knowledge than the average fan and most media members. But heading into the final month of the season, here are a few suggestions to help fix the Ravens offense:

Run the football more effectively: They don't have to run it more, but more effectively, especially late in the game. The problem with the Ravens is that they don't have the mindset of two years ago when they were a run-oriented team. They brought in several high-profile receivers, signed a franchise quarterback and have a coordinator that is pass-happy.

The Ravens aren't physical enough to knock teams off the ball, but they are athletic enough to get a lot of angle blocks, trap, pull and get to linebackers in the second level. With the weather so unpredictable on the East Coast, an effective running game is like having an ace the hole, and it could help seal victories in the fourth period, a problem area for the Ravens this season. The offense fails to produce, and a tired defense goes back on the field.

Get more input from the offensive assistants: When the Ravens won the Super Bowl in the 2000 season, the running game was designed by assistants Jim Colletto and Matt Simon. The success started to fade once head coach Brian Billick took those duties away and turned them over to coordinators Rick Neuheisel and Jim Fassel. The current assistants have great experience, and some of them feel left out when it comes to the game plan. The assistants work on building relationships with the players and might have more to contribute to the game plan because of those relationships.

Develop a better feel for the game: The Ravens lack a killer instinct and outsmart themselves at times. Sometimes, it's OK to do the obvious. When you have a big lead against a team like Carolina, its OK to run the ball in the fourth quarter because the Panthers don't have the talent or the quarterback to come back. When that quarterback is Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger, never take your foot off the gas.

Make Joe Flacco more comfortable: Flacco seems more at ease in the shotgun, and at this point in the season, there shouldn't be a problem even running the ball more out of the formation. He appears to read defenses better and quicker than when he drops back out of the conventional set. Also, the quick, no-huddle offense is Flacco's strength. He reacts and delivers the ball quicker. Most of the receivers like the quick tempo as well.

Reassess the passing game:
The Ravens are throwing the ball over the middle more than a year ago, but they aren't consistent at it. You don't see a lot of routes where they clear out for another receiver or flood zones.

In the red zone, there aren't many picks or rubs. It's basically the same passing game as three years ago with a lot of comebacks and curls from the outside receivers and fades inside the 20-yard line.

Where's the execution? It's easy to blame the coaches, but the players have to be accountable as well. The pass protection in the last month has been poor. One of the main reasons the Ravens can't get it done in the fourth quarter is because the players can't finish. Fingers can be pointed at a lot of the players, from the quarterback to the offensive line to the secondary. Everybody has played a part.

Get out of Flacco's ear: There are times when Flacco appears to be a drone. It's as if Cameron is calling the play inside his helmet and telling him where to throw, and if that isn't open, Flacco goes to the check-down back. You can't play that way. The third-year quarterback needs more leeway to go through his progressions and make his own decision. In the past year, Flacco hasn't grown much. No one knows for sure how much Flacco is allowed to change plays at the line of scrimmage, but it's safe to assume not much.

The list appears long, but it's really just a matter of tweaking some things. The Ravens have the 14th-ranked offense in the league, No.16 in rushing and No. 15 in passing. That's a good balance, but they need to tighten up some things to get better. This is the final month to get it done. If they get better in each of the above areas, it might be enough to push them over the hump and into the playoffs.

And maybe the Super Bowl.

Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.

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