(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)
BALTIMORE — The post-game comments have become as predictable as the offensive woes every week as the Ravens fell 19-17 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The same buzzwords and clichés have been echoed in describing an offensive line and running game that have been miserable through the first six weeks of the season. After showing signs of life in running for 100 yards in the second half against Miami last week, the Ravens are back to the drawing board again after being held to 47 yards on 22 carries against the Packers to fall to 3-3 on the season.
This week, there was no Bryant McKinnie to pick on as the newly-acquired Eugene Monroe took his place as the starting left tackle, but the results weren’t any better. The combination of young center Gino Gradkowski and the implementation of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes have received the bulk of the criticism, but the end result can’t be overstated or oversimplified in blaming only two individuals, either.
The entire Baltimore offensive line has been bad. Really bad.
“The thing that we’re not going to do is overreact,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You don’t go in there and make any kind of major adjustments when you know you’re doing things well, and you’ve got the people to do it. We’re a work in progress, no doubt about it.”
That line of explanation was acceptable over the first few weeks of the seasons when the Ravens faced some talented front sevens and were adjusting to new personnel, but in order to be a work in progress, there actually has to be some progress being made. And as the Ravens approach the midway point, the same problems continue to plague an offense that has been shut out in the first quarter four times in six games this season.
Though many might describe the decision to trade for Monroe in the middle of the season an example of overreacting, perhaps it’s time for Harbaugh to shake things up even more. There are simply too many holdovers from an offensive line that played terrifically in the Ravens’ march to Super Bowl XLVII nine months ago to accept being this bad. That’s why the fingers pointed in the direction of Castillo and Gradkowski are understandable.
Baltimore entered Week 6 gaining just 2.8 yards per carry and averaged 2.1 against the Packers as neither Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice nor backup Bernard Pierce could find consistent room to run. The offensive line was once again dominated physically and more miscommunication allowed unblocked defenders to blow up plays in the backfield on several occasions.
“What you saw out there is not what we put out in practice,” said Rice, who was held to 34 yards on 14 carries. “We practiced so hard. I guess I’d use the words ‘a little frustrated.’ You can’t take our hard work away. We work so hard.”
But that hard work isn’t paying off as the absence of a productive running game is making life too difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco, who played commendably in throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns in defeat. Critics will mock Flacco’s pedestrian numbers this season in the aftermath of the 28-year-old receiving a $120.6 million contract, but he isn’t good enough and doesn’t have the sufficient weapons to thrive without any semblance of a running game.
No Dennis Pitta, no Anquan Boldin, and no running game? You might as well ask Flacco to play without three of his four limbs, and that’s not even considering the pass protection that’s been better than the run blocking but still too inconsistent this season.
The Ravens were 2-for-14 on third down against the Packers on Sunday and only four of those opportunities required less than nine yards to convert. In the first quarter, the Ravens gained nine yards on nine plays on first and second down, leaving Flacco and the passing game with an uphill climb over and over.
“It’s tough when you don’t have any success on first and second down,” Flacco said. “You’re putting yourself in third-down situations and the only way you score touchdowns or kick a field goal is you convert four third downs to get there — and you get 12 yards at a time. Twelve yards, 12 yards, 12 yards. In order to sustain drives, you need to get first downs on first and second down, and you need to get a couple chunks in there, and we’re not doing that.”
The frustration is clear, because even with the personnel changes made from last year, there is still too much talent present to be this poor offensively, especially when it comes to the running game.
The Ravens simply can’t expect to overcome the slow starts by the offense on a weekly basis to win many games. The defense allowed a 64-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson late in the third quarter and wilted in the final 15 minutes as Green Bay put together a field-goal drive lasting more than seven minutes, but the overall effort of giving up 19 points to one of the best offenses in the NFL should have been enough to win.
The offense isn’t doing it’s part and it starts up front. As Flacco described it after the game, the 17 points scored in the second half were “too little, too late.”
“We’ve just not getting it done as well as we want to in the first half,” Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. “We come in at halftime and it’s like, ‘We’ve got to get going. We’ve got to do this.’ And it’s been like that almost every game this year. We want to start faster and help the defense out. I think they played tremendous today. Versus Aaron Rodgers, they did awesome. We all want to get it right. Everybody’s frustrated.”
There are no easy solutions as it’s clear Harbaugh and his coaching staff haven’t found them through the first six weeks of the season, but they must take a look at Castillo’s schemes and Gradkowski’s performance, specifically when it comes to making the proper calls at the line. And perhaps it’s time to reassess how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell starts games since that’s when the Ravens have been particularly bad offensively.
Instead of hoping to establish the running game early, maybe the Ravens need to come out throwing to set up the run as the game progresses. At the very least, it would put the ball in Flacco’s hands to give him more control in preventing the third-and-long situations he’s pointed to as being a major problem.
It’s becoming apparent that giving the ball to Rice won’t automatically fix the Ravens’ problems despite what many had you believe after last week’s game.
“I always feel like we can mix it up a little bit more on first and second down just to get everybody going,” Flacco said. “It’s tough to say when we’re just not running the ball up to the ability that we think we should run it. If we were running the ball better, we wouldn’t be saying it. We wouldn’t be talking about it.”
But we are.
And it continues to be the biggest problem plaguing the Ravens this season.