Ravens take steps toward establishing offensive balance

September 12, 2014|By Aaron Wilson | The Baltimore Sun

When the Ravens' offensive line and fullback Kyle Juszczyk stepped in unison to their right Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was convinced that a trademark outside-zone run was headed in that direction.

It was a faulty assumption, as quarterback Joe Flacco sold the Steelers on his play-action fake before lobbing the football to tight end Owen Daniels wide open in the left corner of the end zone for the Ravens' first touchdown of a 26-6 victory.

How Daniels slipped out for the 2-yard score during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium was an example of the kind of offensive balance the Ravens are hoping to build.

The Ravens engineered an offensive turnaround after an uneven performance during a 23-16 season-opening loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals — in which the run was largely abandoned with just 20 carries overall for 91 yards while an erratic Flacco threw 62 passes. This time, the Ravens achieved a much more effective division of labor between the run and the pass that falls in line with what new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has envisioned.

"This was kind of a signature Kubiak game plan," said Daniels, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end who played eight years for Kubiak with the Houston Texans. "I think we executed it pretty well."

The Ravens operated with a physical approach based on a downhill running style from running back Bernard Pierce, who gained a game-high 96 yards on 22 carries. The Ravens ran the football 36 times for 157 yards, pounding the Steelers defense up the middle and on the perimeter.

Flacco threw the football just 29 times, including several high-percentage attempts, with 21 completions for 166 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.3 quarterback rating. Out of his 62 throws against the Bengals, Flacco completed 35 of them for 345 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 71.0 quarterback rating.

"Absolutely, we were able to run the ball and were able to throw the ball," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "That's a good combination for an offense. We had a good chemistry.

"The short passing game was working well. We got bogged down a little in the middle of the game, but we wore them down in the second half. The running game was really special."

With the renewed ability to grind out yards on the ground, play-action became an increased threat.

And that opened up the middle of the field for Daniels, Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith caught a team-high six passes for 71 yards.

"Steve brings a fire and a passion to the game that's infectious," Pitta said. "When he catches the ball, you feel like he's going to break it every time."

One of the only main offensive players who didn't benefit was Torrey Smith — the former Maryland standout caught just one pass for 10 yards on three targets.

"They were tight on me, which opened up a lot for Steve," Torrey Smith said. "Joe was patient and on the mark."

With more manageable yardage situations through success on first and second downs, the Ravens converted five of 12 third downs.

"The big thing was even if we weren't getting big runs, we were still making plays on third down," Flacco said. "We were still moving the chains. As the game went on and we got that lead, it allowed us to continue to run the ball.

"When your carries can go up, when you can get the lead late in the game, you really start to pound them. ... There's no special thing. We played better. We did the little things right."

Flacco also had more time to go through his reads with upgraded pass protection.

He was never sacked or hit against the Steelers after being sacked three times against the Bengals.

"They did a great job," Flacco said. "Any time you can protect the quarterback the way they did and wear a team out late in the game and get those running yards, it's a real credit to those guys."

Pierce followed his shaky performance against the Bengals with a strong showing against the Steelers.

Four days after he was benched by Ravens coach John Harbaugh in the Cincinnati game when Pierce lost a fumble and rushed for 14 yards on six runs, the former Temple standout averaged 4.4 yards per run.

"I definitely had to bounce back from last week," Pierce said. "What a difference from last week. It's nothing personal. It was business, and I didn't take care of business last week.

"I knew I messed up. I was counting on, 'Don't do a repeat of last week.' Just hold on to the ball, and everything would be fine."

NOTES

The Kansas City Chiefs signed cornerback Jamell Fleming to their active roster off of the Ravens practice squad. … Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was fined $8,268 by the NFL for unnecessary roughness, according to the league. Mosley delivered a late hit to Bengals running back Giovani Bernard on Sunday, drawing a personal foul.

awilson@baltsun.com

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