Different season, same story with Ravens' confusing play-calling

September 16, 2012|Mike Preston

PHILADELPHIA — — Here they go again.

The greatest fear about this new, no-huddle offense returned in the Ravens 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday .

I thought the Ravens were past this stage about questionable play calling. The Ravens had a new quarterback coach in Jim Caldwell. Quarterback Joe Flacco was playing well. Star running back Ray Rice wasn't complaining about his share of touches and the new offense was humming.

And then came Sunday ...

Oh my, we're still looking for Rice.

Did he have a cold or virus? The entire offense was a no-show in the second half against Philadelphia, and when that happens, the Ravens should go back to old reliable.

It should have been Rice time.

After Sunday's loss, fingers could be pointed at Flacco's poor second half performance to the ineptness of the officials to a Ravens defense which allowed 486 yards of total offense.

But it was the offensive play calling that was the most disappointing, especially on the Ravens' last series. Trailing 24-23 and faced with third-and-1 at their own 46 with 57 seconds and two timeouts remaining, Flacco overthrew tight end Dennis Pitta in the left flat..

On the next play, Flacco overthrew Rice in the right flat. Game over.

At that point, you'd figure the Ravens would have pounded Rice for a yard, gotten the first down and called a timeout to allow the team to regroup either on third or fourth down.

It just made so much sense because at that point Flacco was cold and the Eagles were mugging the receivers. Plus, another 20 yards, and the Ravens would have been in the range of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who had already converted field goals of 56, 51 and 48 yards.

"We ran the ball a lot in the second half, the last two plays of the game, ummm, we thought about running the ball yeah, but we thought we had some good calls. I think that's fair," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh in questioning the play selection."You could have called a draw or something there, but you know they were bringing some heat and they were hugging the backs too, you know I mean, it was man coverage, so it would have been hit or miss.

"We tried some draws, we tried some traps and even some passing situations, some second and longs and we really weren't hitting that stuff either."

Rice said: "There were sometimes that we were third-and-short and I would have loved to see our fullback get some more calls. We have a great fullback in Vonta Leach and he can get us first downs."

Ok, give it to Rice, Leach, whatever, just run the ball and get a first down. We don't know who to blame anymore with the play calling. Flacco said those plays were sent in from the sidelines (offensive coordinator Cam Cameron), but with this no-huddle offense Flacco is supposed to have the liberty to change the play.

Somebody should have called them off.

"Yeah, we had them sent in and we just didn't execute them," Flacco said.

But those two plays were just the end of a dismal performance in the last two quarters. Going into the half, the Ravens were leading 17-7, and everything was working well.

Flacco was 14 of 17 for 92 yards in passing and Rice had rushed seven times for 78 yards including one run of 43. At times, Rice made Philadelphia look as if the Eagles didn't have a middle linebacker.

More importantly, the Ravens had decent balance of 17 passes and 10 runs. And then Cameron and Flacco went pass happy to open the third quarter.

On the Ravens first eight offensive plays of the second half, they threw eight straight passes. Rice didn't run the ball until there was 5 minutes and 30 seconds left in the third period.

The Ravens went three and out on three of four offensive series in the third quarter, and the other ended in a Flacco interception which eventually resulted in an Eagles touchdown.

"In the second half, they did a good job of not allowing us to get in the rhythm and forcing us to punt the ball and we didn't do a good job of combating it," Flacco said.

In other words, the Eagles made adjustments and the Ravens didn't. Philadelphia cornerbacks started pressing up and jamming the Ravens receivers at the line of scrimmage, and they couldn't escape cleanly.

The only receiver that consistently got open in the second half was Pitta, and Flacco locked on him too much.

Maybe we were expecting too much.

Maybe we all became too giddy about the offense after the preseason and last week's opener against Cincinnati. Flacco was near flawless during that time, and everything seemed to flow well.

It appeared as though the Ravens had overcome the growing pains of an offense as far as being balanced and the run versus pass ratio. You felt that the coaching staff and Flacco would control the pace and feel the pulse of a game.

Flacco said he suffered a slight rib injury on the first play of the second half and it might have affected him. Regardless if it was the injury or the Eagles pass rush, the Ravens should have been able to counter both.

They didn't.

The Eagles have an aggressive defense, and it is only the second game of the season, way too early to determine the identity of this offense and how this will play out.

But it's disappointing that this team doesn't know when and how to use Rice. I thought they were past this stage.

Until Sunday.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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