Offense should be on display in Ravens' preseason opener

August 08, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

So the Ravens open their preseason schedule Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome, a place with all the charm of an airplane hangar, and now we'll see if this offense is any more dynamic than it was last year.

Is there pressure on the Ravens' offense to make big strides this season? Oh, you bet. Because the bottom line is this: the defense can't be expected to carry this team again.

Not with Terrell Suggs out until November at the earliest with that Achilles injury. Not with Paul Kruger untested as an every-down linebacker. Not with a rookie, Courtney Upshaw, who's projected to start at the other outside linebacker spot and who's dealing with a balky shoulder that's caused him to miss a ton of practice in training camp.

Not with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed a year older and a step slower, not ready for a rocking chair and a shawl, exactly, but not as great as they used to be.

Uh-uh. This is the year the Ravens need to put some serious points on the scoreboard. This is the year the offense has to step up and take the pressure off a defense that won't be as dominant.

And it would be nice to see that begin Thursday night against the Falcons, even with Joe Flacco and the rest of the starters only expected to play a quarter.

At practice the other day, the Ravens quarterback was asked about the expectations he has of himself for Thursday's game.

Flacco, of course, is All-Pro at avoiding any question that even hints at introspection. So he sidestepped this one neatly, too, shifting the focus away from himself and putting it squarely on the entire offense, where it belongs.

"My expectations will be we get the ball, whether it's to open the game or once they turn the ball over on downs or whatever happens, and we go down and score a touchdown," he said. "And then that'll be a good day."

Maybe it'll be a good omen for this team, too, if you believe in that sort of thing.

At the risk of reading too much into it, the Ravens offense has moved the ball really well in training camp. You've heard John Harbaugh and other coaches fawning all over Joe Flacco the past couple of weeks. But the truth is, Flacco has looked outstanding.

His arm looks stronger than ever and he's been zipping balls into tight windows all over the field. At times last year, he expressed frustration at not being able to go downfield more. But in this camp he's been airing it out, throwing big strikes to wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones and tight end Ed Dickson.

We've also seen far fewer dump-off passes to Ray Rice, which could be a good sign.

Sure, Rice is a tremendous weapon, a versatile running back with great hands. And you want the ball in his hands as much as possible.

But the Ravens also know that for this offense to really take off, Rice probably shouldn't be catching a team-leading 76 passes as he did last season.

I'm sorry, but that stat's also indicative of problems: receivers not getting separation, protection breaking down, a frustrated quarterback forced to check down too quickly, that sort of thing.

So maybe this is the year the Ravens figure it out and kick the offense into a higher gear. It's not as if they don't have the talent. It's certainly not as if they don't have the quarterback.

At their last practice before leaving for Atlanta, a reporter pointed out that Flacco has thrown 31 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone over the past two seasons.

"What do you attribute that to?" the guy wanted to know.

You could read it in Flacco's eyes: Uh-oh, Introspection Alert!

Out came another metaphorical Flacco stiff-arm.

"I don't know," he said. "You've got to be smart in the red zone and you want to score points. You really want to score touchdowns. ... In this era of football, you really have to put touchdowns on the board as much as you can.

"Thirty-one touchdowns, I don't really know where that stacks up. I'm sure people are blowing me away in the touchdown category. To have no turnovers, it's definitely a big thing because it means we're getting points. But the biggest thing for me, I'd like to see that grow and have 60 touchdowns and no picks so that we can put even more points on the board and put more pressure on the other team's offense, get more turnovers and things like that."

Sixty touchdowns and no picks in the red zone. More points on the board.

You know what Ravens fans would say about that?

Well, it's a start.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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