PITTSBURGH — — When the Ravens passed their way to a Super Bowl title last winter, they were most effective when they spread out opponents and put the pedal to the metal with their no-huddle offense.
Early this season, though, the Ravens had to pump their brakes on that approach after injuries at wide receiver and tight end pushed newcomers into unexpected roles.
As healthy as it has been all season, the Ravens' offense had the need for speed Sunday, hurrying up to the ball after plays and using three-receiver sets on the majority of their plays to attack the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens lost, 19-16, at Heinz Field, but they might have come closer to figuring out their offensive identity.
"I just think we're comfortable with it. If that's what it takes, we're going to move as fast as we can," tight end Ed Dickson said. "We talked about it at the beginning of the season, using that fast-paced tempo. Then Dennis Pitta went down and we had to adjust to guys that didn't know the plays. If that's what our quarterback is comfortable in, that's what we're going to do."
After going three-and-out on their first drive, the Ravens used their no-huddle offense on their final six possessions. They parked fullback Vonta Leach on the sideline for most of the game and used their 11 personnel — three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back — on 55 of their 61 plays. Quarterback Joe Flacco often operated out of the shotgun.
The Ravens limited their substitutions, keeping tired Steelers defenders on the field.
Despite forcing the Steelers to use five defensive backs, the Ravens again struggled to run the ball. But Flacco completed 24 of his 34 attempts for 215 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Nine Ravens caught a pass.
The offense picked up 19 first downs, had four drives of 10 or more plays and moved into Steelers territory on each of their final six possessions. But they scored just one touchdown, on a 16-play, 83-yard drive on their final possession of the game.
"We wanted to do a little bit of that and see if we could keep them on the field and wear them out a little bit," Flacco said. "I thought we moved the ball pretty well. Once we got into the red zone, we got shut down a little bit. Every score was really pivotal. It seemed like there were not a lot of possessions out there."
Curious, Flacco stood in the locker room after his post-game news conference, flipping through a packet of stats. He said he couldn't believe how quickly the game had gone. There were 15 total possessions and four punts in a game that lasted two hours and 48 minutes.
"We just struggled to put the ball in the end zone and when you're playing against a good football team and your possessions are limited, you can't do that," he said.
They might not have anticipated the game being such a blur, but the Ravens wanted to get off to a quick start and get on a roll, and they felt the best way to do it was by spreading out the Steelers and speeding up the tempo.
"We just tried to switch things up and see what we're best at," wide receiver Tandon Doss said. "Sometimes I guess we get a little predictable. We were just trying to change things up a little bit."
After the disappointing loss, several offensive players felt that the three-wide sets gave the offense a spark and expressed optimism that it was heading in the right direction.
Returning to an approach similar the one that helped the Ravens score 31 points per game in last season's playoffs led to some success moving the ball, at least until the offense got deep inside Steelers territory. But players made clear on Sunday that this offense is still looking for its identity as it heads into the team's bye week.
"We'll find out who we are," running back Ray Rice said. "That's what the bye week is for. We got better on offense today. We're looking to find out who we are on offense and we'll find out who we are as a team when we come back off the bye."