Ravens look to stay course to solve problems

December 16, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

There are no quick fixes for what troubles the Ravens. Their offense hasn't scored a second-half touchdown the past four games and is suffering from a case of mistaken identity. The defense was over-cooked in Houston and now must deal with an even better passing game when the New Orleans Saints arrive Sunday.

If not the most troubled 9-4 team in the league, the Ravens are certainly the most inconsistent.

What was once their offensive identity — the run game — is now officially an after-thought. And on a team that built a defensive tradition around a Super Bowl championship, no lead is safe. The Ravens already have blown eight leads in the fourth quarter, three in the final 30 seconds.

So how do the Ravens emerge from this curious funk that has enveloped them over the past month?

By staying the course — executing better, polishing techniques, grinding on fundamentals — players and coaches said this week.

"I'm not a guy that likes to change things," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think you play with what you have, and you do what you're good at. When you're 13 games into the year, you should know what you're good at, and you should go out there and run those things. You shouldn't need to change your offense and change what your identity is, or what you feel it is. … We're a 9-4 football team and we should feel good about that."

On Monday night in Houston, in an attempt to revive the running game, the Ravens switched from their three-receiver offensive sets to play a Jumbo package of six offensive linemen — using guard Chris Chester as a blocking tight end — and, for much of the game, sent out two receivers in pass patterns. It was the unbalanced line package they used much of Flacco's rookie season.

It didn't work. The Ravens rushed for a scant 63 yards, averaging a paltry 2.6 per carry, and barely survived the struggling Texans.

Where the new/old offense did help, though, was on the goal line. The Ravens punched in their first rushing touchdown in three weeks when Willis McGahee powered over from the 1 in the first quarter.

"I thought it was a plus," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Thursday. "On the goal line it was a huge plus. That was a big play in that game."

The Ravens were a perfect three-for-three in the red zone — three possessions, three touchdowns — and they were improved on third down (8 for 15), where they have been slumping.

But shoddy pass protection and a second-half touchdown drought have put the Ravens' defense in a more tenuous position each week. The Texans ran 53 plays in the second half, good for 301 yards and 21 points in a near-miraculous comeback.

The Ravens' offense hasn't scored a touchdown in the second half since the Nov. 11 game in Atlanta, when Flacco whipped a 9-yard scoring pass to Todd Heap in the final 65 seconds of the fourth quarter. They have gone four complete games and a total of 124 minutes, 10 seconds without an offensive touchdown in the second half.

The solution?

"Continue to focus on fundamentals and execution," Cameron said. "That's what our guys are doing. There's opportunities, there's all sorts of circumstances that come up in games. But there is a bottom line. The bottom line is we've got to take care of the football but score points. And we've got to find a way to do that. Especially … finishing drives, finishing games."

It would obviously help if the Ravens could protect Flacco better. It's not just the linemen who are having trouble, though. The backs haven't handled blitzers the way they should, either. Both Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain have missed big blocks in the backfield in the last two games.

Flacco has been sacked 32 times already this season, compared to 32 total in his rookie season and 36 last year. But he isn't complaining.

"I can tell you that every game I go into, I feel confident that I'm going to be protected," he said, "and if I get hit every now and then, that's part of the game."

For the second straight game, though, Flacco was sacked by an untouched back-side blitzer. Cameron vowed it wouldn't happen again after Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu won a game with his sack two weeks ago. But he said the second-quarter sack by Houston's Bernie Pollard wasn't the same deal.

"Two different protections, all right?" Cameron said. "Joe comes off the field two plays later – because he threw a touchdown the next play – so he comes off after throwing the touchdown and I said, 'Joe?' He said, 'I know, I knew he was unblocked, but I thought I could beat [him].'

"[Joe] knows [Pollard is] unblocked, and he's got a couple options. He thought he was going to be able to beat the blitz with the ball … and he said where he was going with the ball got hung up and he held it just a count [too long] and got hit. And you've got to appreciate that. He knew exactly what the potential was that happened."

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