Once again, Ravens offense cause for concern

Inability to move ball against Jaguars has coaching staff, players searching for answers

October 25, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

It took an abysmal 60 minutes of offense, and a performance that Ravens coach John Harbaugh admitted was about as "bad as you can play" for the familiar questions to return, and the doubt to seep in after what had been an encouraging start to the 2011 season.

Is quarterback Joe Flacco good enough to take the Ravens where they want to go?

Can the offensive line provide him enough time and the wide receivers give him enough separation?

Why isn't offensive coordinator Cam Cameron getting running back Ray Rice the ball more?

Outspoken linebacker Terrell Suggs essentially asked that last question himself following a 12-7 loss Monday night to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that was as hard to watch as the result was for the Ravens (4-2) to stomach.

"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had six carries," said Suggs, who also said that he didn't really know what the game plan was, and questioned why wide receiver Anquan Boldin didn't get the ball more. "This is a Pro Bowl running back you're talking about. They fed their horse. We have to feed our horse."

The Jaguars' "horse" — running back Maurice Jones-Drew — carried the ball 30 times for 105 yards. Rice actually had eight carries for only 28 yards, five catches for 35 yards and he fumbled once in Ravens' territory. Following Rice's fumble, he went more than 10 minutes before he got his next touch, though Harbaugh denied that had anything to do with the fumble.

"He's got to get more than eight carries," Harbaugh said at his news conference Tuesday. "When you're a play caller, you're searching for things to get you going, to get you jump-started. It wasn't like those eight carries were gashing them or anything like that either. We were looking for some things that we can do, searching a little bit for a way to get a first down. It wasn't so much about, 'Hey, you know what? Let's get so many carries to Ray Rice.' We were just trying to find a way to beat the defense and get a first down and get going. Because when you do that, that's when those carries start adding up … By the same token, eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice, there's no doubt about it."

Harbaugh also said that he had no problem with Suggs speaking out — "Terrell Suggs' heart is always in the right place," he said — and said that the player and team are "on the same page." Cameron also said following Monday's game that he "wholeheartedly" agreed with Suggs that Rice needs to get the ball more.

Either way, Rice's lack of involvement was just one of several issues that arose during one of the worst offensive performances in team history. Facing a team that had lost five straight games, the Ravens totaled 146 yards of offense and 90 of them came on their lone scoring drive, which ended with Flacco hitting Boldin in the back of the end zone to cut the Jaguars' lead to 9-7 with 2:02 play.

They had a franchise-worst 16 yards of total offense in the first half and didn't get a first down until Rice's 12-yard run with 5:29 left in the third quarter. They went just 2-of-12 on third down and averaged 2.8 yards per play. After the first half, Flacco, who caught his own deflected pass, was tied for the team lead in completions.

Flacco finished 21-of-38 for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and 10 of his completions came in the Ravens' one scoring drive. He now has a 52.1 completion percentage, which is 32nd among 34 qualifying quarterbacks, and a 76.2 quarterback rating, which ranks 26th.

"[The quarterback] always gets too much credit and gets too much blame," Harbaugh said. "I guarantee you this week, it's going to be too much blame. Everybody, starting with me on down, had a hand in the offensive performance and everybody is going to have a hand in straightening the thing out. That's what we do. We've done it before. It's not going to be a surprise when we bounce back."

It certainly won't, not with the one-win Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. But the reality is the offensive questions, specifically the ones about Flacco, won't stop until the Ravens manage to avoid such poor performances on a more consistent basis.

Against the Tennessee Titans in Week Two, Flacco went 15-of-32 and threw an interception as the Ravens totaled just 229 yards of offense. Two weeks later against the New York Jets, Flacco was 10-of-31 for 163 yards, committed two turnovers and misfired on 12 straight pass attempts at one point.

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