With easy win over Tampa Bay, Ravens offense shows how it is evolving

  • Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith celebrates with teammates… (Kim Klement / USA Today Sports )
October 13, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

Ravens coach John Harbaugh woke up Monday and watched the tape from Sunday's game again. It was even more enjoyable than witnessing it from his spot on the sideline.

"It was a lot more fun watching the tape … when I already know the outcome," said Harbaugh, a day after the Ravens had one of their most explosive offensive performances in team history and routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48-17 at Raymond James Stadium. "But any time you see a touchdown, it's fun. It's a joy, it's just a great feeling."

A week earlier, the Ravens gained just 287 yards, turned the ball over three times and went 1-for-11 on third downs in a frustrating 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But against the struggling Buccaneers, quarterback Joe Flacco threw five touchdown passes in the first 16:03 of the game – the most in that span since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

The offense racked up 475 yards of total offense, scored touchdowns on all five red-zone trips and didn't turn the ball over until the final three minutes of the game when backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor fumbled a snap.

"They ran the ball, they threw the ball," Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner said after the game. "Flacco could do everything he wanted."

Ravens officials have said since the start of training camp they expected Gary Kubiak's new offense to be a work-in progress. Was this the week-to-week progress that they had in mind?

"It was a historic performance," Harbaugh said Monday. "I don't think it was just Joe, but Joe obviously was the driver of it all. It's good to see the football world see what Joe is capable of in that way. He's that kind of a player, but all of our guys, to see them play that way, it was a great win."

Harbaugh, whose team returns home Sunday to play the Atlanta Falcons (2-4), warned that things are never as good or as bad as they initially seem. Coaches and players knew that they have a much better offense than what they showed against the Colts. They also know that it is going to be hard to top their performance against the Buccaneers. They built a 38-0 at halftime and scored on their first six possessions.

The wild swing in performance may be an indication of a unit that is still learning Kubiak's system and trying to compensate for the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta (hip surgery) and left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery). But the offense, under Kubiak, has already proven to be far more reliable and dangerous than last year.

Through six games, the 4-2 Ravens rank fifth in the NFL in points per game (27.3), ninth in total yards per game (389.8), 12th in passing yards per game (257.0) and ninth in rushing yards per game (132.8). By most measures, the Ravens have a top-10 offense after finishing last season with the 29th-ranked offense and the 30th-ranked rushing attack.

"You just try to get better every day," Harbaugh said. "We expect to improve every day. Our coaches do a great job of teaching. Our players do a great job of learning, but I would also say, they teach each other, they practice hard and they compete. Our guys get after it. When you do that, you have a chance to get better. They should get better."

Harbaugh won't make comparisons to last year. He won't even entertain such questions. A major difference obviously is the offense line, which has paved the way for a productive running game and protected Flacco, who hasn't been sacked in four of six games.

Asked about the group, which didn't allow a sack Sunday despite starting undrafted rookie James Hurst at left tackle and rookie fifth-round pick John Urschel at left guard, Harbaugh said, "We did the best we could last year. It wasn't good enough obviously, [by] any of us. We're better. We just have to keep building on that. That's what matters."

Then, there's the play of Flacco, who is flourishing under Kubiak. His performance against the Buccaneers represented a career day and left Flacco sixth in the NFL in total passing yards (1,596) and 10th in quarterback rating (97.8).

"I feel really good," Flacco said after Sunday's game. "I think we've done a good job of dictating the plays for the most part. We've been in a couple tough games that didn't go our way. I think we got a bunch of strong-willed guys and a bunch of guys that know how to handle the situation. I think all this will serve us well later in the season."

Through six games last year, Flacco had seven touchdown passes, eight interceptions and he had been sacked 16 times. This year, he's thrown for 12 scores, been picked off three times and sacked just seven times.

He's seemingly getting better each week, too. In his past three games, he's completed 65-of-98 passing attempts (66.3 percent) for 868 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. If there were any questions as to how Flacco would fit in Kubiak's system, they've certainly been silenced for the time being.

"We've all been in offenses no matter what it is," Flacco said. "You have to go out and prep throughout the week and do your best to get down the game plan and go out there and execute it. I think it's coming naturally to us for the most part.

"We are getting better and better each week and more and more comfortable with it. The last thing that is in our head is the fact that we've never been in this offense."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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