Ravens offense is relying on a little patience

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is keeping things simple for his unit

  • Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gets rid of the ball in the first half against the Houston Texans.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gets rid of the ball in the first… (DOUG KAPUSTIN, MCT )
September 26, 2013|By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

During the Ravens' victorious Super Bowl run last season, their offense emerged as a formidable weapon capable of rapidly piling up points and yards.

It's a different story altogether this season as an offense in transition has degenerated into a plodding unit that has fallen to 30th in the NFL in total offense.

A once intimidating running game has slowed to a standstill. A formerly prolific passing game has plummeted, impacted since trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers and losing tight end Dennis Pitta to a fractured, dislocated hip. Deep throws have frequently misfired with quarterback Joe Flacco ranked 26th in yards per passing attempt with an average of 6.25 yards per throw.

Although it's a bit much to characterize the lack of success as a crisis since the Ravens (2-1) are still winning games largely because of a stout defense, the state of the offense isn't an encouraging trend.

"I think we're evolving, I think we know who we are and what we want to do," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "The fact is that we have to do it more consistently."

During the playoffs, Caldwell fell into a strong rhythm as a playcaller with enviable options. He could pound the football behind running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Or Flacco could launch spirals all over the field to Boldin, Pitta and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, who's currently out with a sprained right knee.

The Ravens offense averaged 410.3 yards and scored 31 points per game during the playoffs. This season, they've generated just 308.3 yards and 23.7 points per contest with two of their eight touchdowns produced by the defense and special teams.

Now, the offense is dealing with the fallout of losing Boldin and Pitta and six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk to retirement.

"When you're dealing with an offense that has changed a lot, you go through growing pains, you go through building points," tight end Ed Dickson said. "We've got to find our identity as an offense. Are we going to be a two-minute offense sprinting fast or a team that slows it down? As the season goes on and progresses, we'll eventually get an identity on offense and start to run people over and start looking like the offense we know we're capable of. There's no panic."

Caldwell has been forced to resort to a relatively vanilla offense, limited by his personnel with Flacco adjusting to new targets like undrafted rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown and veteran tight end Dallas Clark. Smith has been a focal point with Boldin gone, and become Flacco's most trusted target with 16 receptions for 269 yards with no touchdowns.

However, the Ravens are frequently in run-heavy, I-formation looks with Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach playing nearly half the snaps in the past few games.

The choices have been limited for Caldwell as the former Indianapolis Colts coach tries to build a baseline of fundamentals before trying to significantly expand his playcalling repertoire.

"It's tough for Jim because he's dealing with different personnel groupings because of the injuries," said Dickson, who has struggled with drops and has just one catch after tearing his hamstring in August. "You pick your poison. You want to make Joe as comfortable as you can, but you don't want to take the keys out of his hands and say, 'Run this play or run that play.' He lets Joe figure out what he wants to do."

It's hard to understate the impact of subtracting Boldin and Pitta from the offense. They combined for 126 receptions, 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and both caught touchdowns in a Super Bowl XLVII victory over the 49ers as Boldin caught six passes for 104 yards in his final game with the Ravens.

With the pass not nearly the threat it was last season, defenses have crowded the line of scrimmage to load up against the run. In general, the chemistry appears to be out of sync.

"You have to have a well-rounded offense and do a lot of things well to fool NFL level athletes and defenses," said former Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce, a FOX Sports 1 analyst. "If you can't do a lot of things, you will suffer. Their identity would have been the same if they still had Anquan Boldin. Joe is missing the best offensive player he's ever played with. They lose the Super Bowl without Boldin.

"Pitta became a star last year. What we're seeing is how much Joe Flacco leans on three weapons in the offense: Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin. I've never seen Joe take this much abuse in the pocket. The decision-making is affected based by routes run one foot to the right or left from where they should be. The timing is off."

Flacco has been sacked eight times. During a 30-9 win over the Houston Texans, star defensive end J.J. Watt had nine tackles, three for losses and a sack.

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