The Patriots took advantage of a predictable Ravens' offense

  • Ravens running back Ray Rice looks on to see if he got the first down against the New England Patriots.
Ravens running back Ray Rice looks on to see if he got the first… (DOUG KAPUSTIN, MCT )
December 23, 2013|Mike Preston

The Ravens have less than a week to achieve an offensive harmony that has eluded them all season.

They had very little of it in the 41-7 loss to New England on Sunday, and the Ravens still need to address some internal issues such as communication, among other things.

The Ravens are ranked No. 29 in offensive yards, averaging 313.1 per game — including 85.4 yards rushing, which ranks No. 28 in the NFL. In the past two games, they have scored just one touchdown, and they have scored only 23 touchdowns on 48 possessions inside the red zone this season.

According to a team source, the Ravens were so predictable on offense Sunday that the Patriots were calling out their plays at the line of scrimmage. Apparently, when the Ravens were passing, New England was using the term "airplane" and when it was a run, they yelled "car."

Former Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis used to be good at reading keys and used expressions "bird" for pass and "rabbit" for run to alert his teammates.

"It was pathetic," the source said. "It still comes down to execution, but you do need the element of surprise. We're giving a lot of things away and it hasn't gotten better throughout the year. Our play calling has been poor."

The Ravens had 358 yards of offense against the Patriots but only 71 at halftime, when quarterback Joe Flacco had a rating of 25.8. The Ravens offense was vanilla and at times predictable.

For instance, offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher often give plays away. It's not unusual for a tackle to be in a pass stance in passing situations, but Monroe and Oher do that whenever the Ravens are going to pass, regardless of the down or situation. When the Ravens run, they have more of a square stance toward the line of scrimmage.

You think Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won't pick that up?

Here's another one: When the Ravens are in a shotgun formation with running backs Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce to the right or left, they usually bring the runner across Flacco's face to hand off. Opposing teams have figured this out, and this is why the Patriots kept sending linebackers crashing into the "A" gap to stop or slow the play.

You don't have to be a "genius" like Bill Belichick to figure that out, either.

The Ravens don't have much offensive chemistry.

First-year run game coordinator Juan Castillo changed the terminology in the running and passing game. That was a mistake. The Ravens had just won a Super Bowl and should have stayed with the same system. If anyone should have changed, it should have been Castillo, especially because the Ravens had three of five starting linemen back from the championship squad. Castillo wanted more of a finesse, zone blocking scheme, whereas the Ravens had used more of power, knock-them-off-the-ball plan in 2012. The offensive linemen complained to Harbaugh and the Ravens made some adjustments midway through the season, but the line still isn't comfortable with Castillo.

And the offense hasn't been the same.

But this isn't all Castillo's fault.

Once Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as the offensive coordinator late last season, Flacco started calling more of his own plays. That put Flacco more at ease.

But this season, Caldwell and receivers coach Jim Hostler put together game plans and call the plays. Flacco seems to be irritated at times and at one point Sunday appeared to brush off Harbaugh.

It's a strange situation.

Whenever a quarterback gets paid big money like Flacco, they usually run the show on game days. Flacco doesn't, but he is more efficient when running the two-minute offense and making his own calls.

The Ravens like to stay with their 125-play script. For instance, when they go with three receivers on first down, they usually stay with the run. When the Patriots started running double zones in coverage, the Ravens kept running vertical routes instead of crossing patterns.

They played into New England's strength instead of improvising.

"They played a lot of zone, passing things off and didn't let us get any of the chunk shots on them," Flacco said after Sunday's game. "The check-downs were there, but we just didn't do it enough."

There are numerous questions about this offense. Why can't they get Torrey Smith more touches, especially early in the game? The Ravens have a big, tall receiver in Marlon Brown but why doesn't he run more seam routs? Is there a law against running more than one screen a game? Why is there such a long script of plays when most teams script 20 to 25 and then adjust on down and distance as the game goes along?

Why don't the Ravens use more motion to create mismatches, especially with Smith as an outside or slot receiver?

The Ravens have no harmony. They need to get some soon because the season has come down to one game. If this team wants to get into the playoffs, it has to get better. It's never too late to make adjustments.

It's not too late to do some serious damage in the postseason.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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