Ravens coach John Harbaugh keeps an eye on the field as his team… (DONALD HEUPEL, Reuters )
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn't willing to second guess the decision Sunday to abandon the run game nor was he in the mood to protect some of the team's under-performing players.
Given ample time to digest Sunday's mistake-filled 23-20 road loss to the Buffalo Bills, a candid Harbaugh called the offensive line "disappointing," challenged drops-prone tight end Ed Dickson to "go catch the ball," and defended the play-calling.
Quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass on 31 straight plays at one point and the Ravens' ran the ball a franchise-low nine times, including only twice in the second half, for just 24 yards. As Flacco endured one of the most difficult days of his career, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were reduced to mere spectators.
"I just felt like we weren't running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball," Harbaugh said. "Looking back on it, I feel the same way, and after watching the tape, I feel we did exactly the right thing to try to win that game, so no second-guessing myself on that. That was my decision and that's the way we went with it."
The strategy nearly worked as the Ravens rallied back from a 13-point halftime deficit and twice had the ball in Bills' territory late in the fourth quarter with a chance to either tie the game or go ahead. However, Flacco's career-high fifth interception with 57 seconds to play ended the threat and dropped the Ravens to 2-2 and into a three-way tie with the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns for first place in the AFC North. The Ravens play the Miami Dolphins Sunday.
Both Harbaugh and Flacco took turns late Sunday afternoon shouldering the blame for the loss. A day later, though, Harbaugh expanded on what is ailing the offense through four games and most of the discussion centered on the offensive line.
He called the pass-blocking "unacceptable" Sunday when Flacco was sacked four times and took 12 quarterback hits. The run blocking has been a problem as the Ravens are 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (64.0) and 30th in yards per rushing attempt (2.6).
"I think the whole O-line is disappointing right now," Harbaugh said. "We've got to run block better, we've got to pass block better. We felt like we were making strides, especially with pass blocking. But we really didn't do as good of a job in this game. We had too many mental mistakes — too many things that are basic protection rules that we understand and we should know.
"We've got to make decisions scheme-wise about what's best for our guys to do. We've got to come off the ball in the run game a lot better than we're doing and we've got to be more physical with the inside part of our pass protection and give Joe more depth to the pocket and keep Joe more clean. Joe does not need to be under the pressure he's under."
The only two differences between the current offensive line and the one that played so well during the Ravens' Super Bowl run is Gino Gradkowski is starting at center in place of the retired Matt Birk and run game coordinator Juan Castillo has taken the lead role over Andy Moeller in coaching the group.
"The issue is what it always is: We've just got to get better. We've got to go to work and improve the things we can improve, make good decisions on what we choose to do and how we choose to scheme it," Harbaugh said. "Yes, we can game-plan better. We can set formations up better to put our guys in a position. Our running backs can do a better job of running to the right spot and trusting the offensive line. It has nothing to do with style or technique or anything like that.
"It's the same offense. We still run the same plays. We still have the same philosophy. There are always a few wrinkles. That's why I brought Juan in, because I was excited about things I knew he was going to bring to the table and bring to our program. Those things are part of what we're doing."
As for Gradkowski, Harbaugh said that he was pleased with how the second-year center has held up physically but acknowledged that there has been an adjustment with the departure of Birk.
"It's the difference between Gino and Matt with the [line] calls and we're feeling that in there right now," Harbaugh said. "Gino is a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So, that's something that we're working through."
Harbaugh said that a couple of Flacco's interceptions were impacted by the Bills' pass rush. He also pointed out that two of them came on tipped balls. On the final one, Flacco tried to fit the ball in to tight end Dallas Clark while safety Da'Norris Searcy was draped all over him. The ball deflected into the air and intercepted by Kiko Alonso.
Flacco's second pick hit Dickson right in the hands and then landed into the lap of former Raven Jim Leonhard. It was unofficially the sixth drop of the season for Dickson, who has had a major problem holding onto the ball since his 54-catch 2011 season.
"The stats kind of speak for themselves. He's not the same player right now than he was then obviously," Harbaugh said. "Ed just needs to go catch the ball. He needs to run fast, get open and catch the football, put it away and get up field. That's all he needs to do. And if he's thinking about anything besides that, he's doing himself a disservice. And if he's lacking confidence for some reason, that's on him. When you have that kind of talent, those kinds of gifts, go play ball, go show everybody what you're capable of doing. That's what I expect to see from Ed."