Ravens find answers in no-huddle shotgun offense

Joe Flacco and his offensive line appeared comfortable moving at quicker pace

October 31, 2011|Mike Preston

The Ravens had been looking for something to build on offensively, and maybe they found it in Sunday's 30-27 come from behind win against the Arizona Cardinals.

While rallying from a 21-point deficit, the largest comeback in franchise history, the Ravens were efficient in running the no-huddle offense, and had success in the short passing game, as quarterback Joe Flacco completed 31 of a career-high 51 passes for 336 yards.

The rally is somewhat tainted because it came against lowly Arizona, but the Ravens have an offense in search of an identity. They have been grasping for a strength for most of the first half of the season, and maybe this is a foundation going into the Pittsburgh game Sunday night and the second half of the season.

"I think we react well to the hurry up," said Flacco. "I think it can put a defense on their heels a little bit. I think it can wear them out a little bit. It's tough to rush the passer, really be able to hold up in there and continue to get the good pass rush. I think that was a big part of it, and obviously, with that, guys have to make catches, make some plays."

"We kind of got to our stuff," said Flacco of the Ravens second half adjustments against Arizona. "We threw some quick-gain passes. Like I said, when you are in a hurry up offense, it gets difficult to rush the passer down after down after down, so that stuff can help our offensive line a little bit."

That's a major key for the Ravens.

While Flacco and coordinator Cam Cameron have taken the brunt of the criticism for the lackluster offense — a lot of it deserved — the Ravens can't get any better until they find a way to improve pass protection.

A quarterback can't throw sitting on his butt and a coordinator can't scheme if the offensive line is allowing constant pressure, and the Ravens found a way to offset those problems Sunday.


They changed the pace of the game with the no-huddle, and they went to short passes. Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for 12 catches and 90 yards. Running back Ray Rice had seven for 36. While the Ravens gave the Cardinals three touchdowns with two turnovers and a long punt return in the second quarter, they sucked the breath out of them in the third with 14 points, and finished them off in the fourth with 10 more.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wasn't happy about the poor performance in the first half, but maybe he saw a new direction in the second.

"Once we started getting a little rhythm and started making first downs, we were able to play at a faster pace, and that's what we planned on doing," said Harbaugh.

It's not like the Ravens have to retool the offense and adopt the West Coast philosophy, which is predicated on short passes. But this style certainly fits Flacco. Everything about him is deliberate and methodical, from his drop back to his sometimes long delivery.

Even his thought process appears slow, because his best games are when Flacco is going to his primary target and not having to go through full progressions. Against the Cardinals, the Ravens got to the line of scrimmage quickly and Flacco was releasing the ball with few hitches.

More importantly, it took some of the burden off a struggling offensive line. Earlier this season, the Ravens went to more five-man protections to get more receivers into routes, and Flacco was getting hit often. He may not have lasted the entire season.

Against Arizona, the Ravens went to maximum protection and still couldn't protect Flacco. They were getting beat in one-on-one matchups, and there appeared to be communication problems as far as assignments.

There has been talk about putting Flacco in the shotgun formation full-time, but that's ridiculous. Tom Brady can do that a lot in New England and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but they are elite.

Flacco isn't in that class, and being in a shotgun formation limits an offense. The Ravens can't afford to be one-dimensional, which is why they shouldn't go into the short passing game mode full-time.

The long ball still should be a part of the arsenal. When you have speedsters like Torrey Smith, Dickson and Lee Evans (when he returns healthy), you have to take shots down field. When you have a running back like Ray Rice, he still has to be the centerpiece of the offense and touch the ball 25 to 35 times a game as a receiver and running back.

But to get the most mileage out of Flacco and the passing game, the short stuff and no-huddle might be the Ravens' best bet. Pittsburgh used it against New England Sunday, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-17 Steelers victory.

Against Pittsburgh Sunday and the Steelers' ferocious pass rush, it might be the best way to be effective — and keep Flacco upright.


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