The Ravens' offense takes on whatever personality fits week to week

  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh leads his team out before they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in October.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh leads his team out before they faced… (Charles LeClaire, USA Today…)
December 12, 2013|Mike Preston

There are few moments during a season when NFL coaches are completely honest and Ravens coach John Harbaugh had one of those Monday afternoon.

"We've been trying to put this thing together throughout the season, and we've had some moments, but we've had a lot of challenging moments, too," Harbaugh said.

"There are certain things that we are, and there are certain things that we're not," Harbaugh said. "And certainly, at this point, we know what those things are. We are what we are, and we've got to find a way with the guys we have to be a real potent offense, and I really believe we can do that."

Translation: The Ravens offensive line isn't strong, so they have to resort to any means necessary to manufacture points and get production from individual players.

And that is reason for concern as the Ravens (7-6) face the Detroit Lions (7-6) Monday night at Ford Field. After 13 games, the Ravens don't have an offensive identity and they are playing one of the most physical defenses in the NFL.

You can see where the Ravens might be going, but no one knows for sure. At times they seem to look like a West Coast offense, but Joe Flacco isn't accurate enough on short passes to run that system full-time. They really want to go vertical, but can't because they don't have a strong running game and good offensive line.

It's basically a mess and the Ravens just kind of go with what is hot at the time, which is why they usually play better in the fourth quarter.

"We've put ourselves in a lot of situations in the fourth quarter to have to come back on teams and have to play well to win football games," Flacco said. "We've probably spent a lot of time feeling games out and then all of the sudden gotten ourselves into situations where we just have to let it go and see what happens. And I think it's just kind of turned out that way."

That brings me back to Harbaugh's comments. He is hoping the Ravens can milk out enough wins to advance into the postseason.

That strategy worked against the New York Jets because the Jets had no offense. It worked against the Pittsburgh Steelers because Justin Tucker had five field goals. The Ravens pulled out a last minute win over the Minnesota Vikings, which was one of the worst teams in the NFL.

But Detroit is different. The Lions get after people. They brawl as if they were brought up on the tough Motor City streets. They were embarrassed last Sunday in a 34-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles as they allowed four fourth quarter touchdowns.

They are going to want revenge on national TV Monday night, and I'm not sure the Ravens can handle the Lions because defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Willie Young like to charge hard from the outside and tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Sun usually get good penetration. Detroit has 27 sacks and the Ravens have allowed 41.

"I feel like we're close, and not just because of two minutes in a football game," said Flacco, alluding to the comeback against Minnesota. "The last handful of weeks, we've really been starting to break through and get to the point where we're giving ourselves opportunities to put points on the board."

The Ravens have struggled this season because a lot of players haven't played up to expectations. The Ravens couldn't find a slot receiver. Both running backs, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, have looked slow and sluggish. Torrey Smith can make explosive plays but isn't a legitimate No. 1 receiver which he has proved the past two weeks dropping long passes.

But the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, who came back last week, helps. He was the missing ingredient inside the red zone, a big target who can make acrobatic catches.

Besides Smith, the Ravens have speed on the outside in receiver Jacoby Jones, who has emerged in the offense again during the past two weeks. Flacco is making plays with his feet as well as his arm and rookie Marlon Brown played well in the slot last week. The Ravens used Rice more as a receiver than a running back against Minnesota. That's an indication that the Ravens know they can't run the ball so they might as well get Rice his touches out of the backfield.

Everything comes back to the offensive line, which has an undersized center and two guards. It always does. Regardless of the offense, it can not operate at 100 percent with poor offensive line play.

Because of the Ravens' inability to run the ball, opposing teams can drop more players into coverage because they don't have to stack the line of scrimmage. Pass blocking has also been a problem even though the Ravens have improved during their three-game winning streak.

But on Monday, Harbaugh gave us a true look inside his team. He minced a few words, but we all got the general idea. He said the major focus after the Minnesota win was to cut down on the big plays because he knows defense has to carry the Ravens for the rest of the season.

As for the offense, there are limitations. The Lions will be ready to brawl, but the Ravens have to be patient against an undisciplined team that might unravel. The Ravens also might be able to exploit a weak Detroit secondary for a big play or two, and that might be enough to squeeze out some production and a victory.

It has to be that way for the rest of the season.

mpreston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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