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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce tackled by Lawrence Timmons and Steve McLendon for one yard loss on 3rd & 1 (1st quarter)

You cannot start a 3rd & 1 run five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Oy.

4. Lamar Woodley sacks Joe Flacco for 10 yard loss on 3rd & 8 from Pittsburgh 34 (2nd quarter)

It would have been a long field goal attempt, but I’d rather that than a punt.

3. William Gay breaks up Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones on 3rd & 12 (3rd quarter)

Man did that one really bother me watching the film again Monday. Very close to six.

2. Elvis Dumervil called for unnecessary roughness after Jerricho Cotchery 7 yard catch from Ben Roethlisberger (3rd quarter)

From 2nd & 17 to an eight minute drive.

1. Vince Williams recovers Justin Tucker onside kick attempt, Tucker flagged for illegal touching (4th quarter)

The decision was questionable. The execution was putrid.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens/Steelers “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Steelers “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 20 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16 Sunday at Heinz Field, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Joe Flacco

4. Jeromy Miles

3. Bernard Pierce

2. Haloti Ngata

1. Elvis Dumervil (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Packers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Packers

Posted on 15 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Eddie Lacy 4 yard run on 3rd & 2 (4th quarter)

This “ended” the game, but Ravens would have needed a miracle even if they stopped the run.

4. Sam Koch punts for 37 yards, touchback on 4th & 9 (1st quarter)

An exchange of 17 yards of field position instead of a field goal try? Or going for it? Or taking a penalty?

3. Datone Jones recovers Joe Flacco fumble forced by Nick Perry at Ravens’ 13 (2nd quarter)

Just an absolute disaster that lead to free points.

2. Jermichael Finley 52 yard catch from Aaron Rodgers on 3rd & 3 (4th quarter)

The play that really ended things.

1. Jordy Nelson 64 yard TD catch from Aaron Rodgers (3rd quarter)

In watching film, no play seemed to turn things more dramatically. Ravens had made it one possession again only to fall behind by two TD’s. 

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Changes coming to Ravens’ struggling offensive line

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Changes coming to Ravens’ struggling offensive line

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer a specific list of adjustments to be made to an anemic running game, but the head coach isn’t shying away from the biggest problem that plagues his 3-3 team, either.

Addressing the media a day after a disappointing 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers in which the Ravens gained just 47 yards on 22 carries to continue a season-long inability to run the football, Harbaugh acknowledged that he and his coaching staff aren’t standing pat with a struggling offensive line. While most fingers are pointed in the direction of new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo and second-year center Gino Gradkowski, the head coach repeatedly said all individuals invested in the running game — coaches, offensive linemen, and running backs — need to make improvements as the Ravens rank 31st in the league with their 2.7 yards per carry average.

“We’re definitely making changes. We’re not going to sit there and just stand pat with what we’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “It may not be visible from the outside looking in, but they’re visible to the people we play against, and they’re definitely visible to us. We know what changes we’re making, whether it’s personnel changes or, more likely, scheme changes. Not major things, just things that will give our guys a better chance to be on the same page. That’s what we need to do.

“We’ve got too many situations where we don’t have a hat on a hat. When you don’t have a hat on a hat, that’s a problem. That’s just not acceptable.”

Harbaugh mentioning the inability to simply find one-on-one matchups suggests the Ravens could be moving away from Castillo’s zone blocking scheme that relies on lateral movement, timing, and finding the proper positioning and angles and moving toward a man-power approach that involves more physicality and simply identifying a defender to block based on how the defense is lined up before the snap.

The Ravens have repeatedly been dominated at the line of scrimmage this season, with many observers seeing too much hesitation and a lack of proper communication in identifying blitzes and stunts. Harbaugh has repeatedly downplayed the changes made by Castillo this season, but the acknowledgement of scheme adjustments being made suggests what the former Eagles offensive line coach has tried to implement hasn’t worked well with the personnel up front.

“We’re not stuck on any particular scheme or any particular technique or any particular way of doing something,” Harbaugh said. “We want to find the best way to do it, and we work hard at that, and we’ll continue to do that. We’re going to find our way into our run game.”

It remains to be seen whether there are any noticeable changes such as the possibility of A.Q. Shipley taking Gradkowski’s place in the starting lineup, but an attempt to simplify their overall strategy could at least provide short-term relief for a running game struggling to simply get back to the line of scrimmage far too often.

Of the Ravens’ 22 rushing attempts in Sunday’s loss to the Packers, five went for negative yardage and six netted no gain as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game were constantly faced with third-and-long situations because of such little success on first and second down. There were a few occasions where a delayed blitzer came untouched to blow up ballcarriers in the backfield.

“We had some mental mistakes, some errors that just cost us,” Harbaugh said. “You need no runs for negative yards. There has got to be at least a gain of some kind moving forward. We’ve got to get a lot better at that.”

Even if a simplified man-power approach doesn’t provide as high of a ceiling in terms of explosive plays, increasing the yards-per-carry average to a respectable level — say even an underwhelming 3.5 yards per carry — would alleviate pressure on a passing game still evolving in its own right.

Whether the results improve this Sunday in Pittsburgh or we see much of the same from a running game that’s yet to get in gear as the bye week approaches, the Ravens need to change things up. All parties involved with the running game continue to say the right things, but it’s now clear that what was once thought as an early-season aberration is threatening to become a year-altering crisis with each week of ineffective rushing.

“Frustration can be a great motivator,” Harbaugh said. “I like that. Let’s be frustrated, and let’s go to work and see if we can get better.”

Jensen’s role moving forward

With Gradkowski not performing well and Shipley not drawing an opportunity at the center position to this point, many have turned their attention to sixth-round rookie Ryan Jensen and what role he might serve along the offensive line.

The Colorado State-Pueblo product finally returned to the practice field last week after breaking his foot in the first week of training camp in late July, but it’s unlikely the 6-foot-4, 318-pound lineman will be a factor on game days until after the bye. It’s clear the Ravens wanted to keep Jensen around as an option for 2013 since they refrained from placing him on season-ending injured reserve, but Harbaugh’s vision for Jensen — at least publicly — doesn’t suggest a move to the starting lineup anytime soon.

“He’ll be a backup to start with, and then we’ll see what he does from there,” Harbaugh said. “We haven’t seen much of him yet. Developmental backup — that will be his role.”

Truthfully, the Ravens are unsure what they really have with Jensen who only played at the Div. II level, but they like his upside as an interior lineman.

Harbaugh defends Elam

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No signs of life from Ravens’ stagnant running game in loss to Packers

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No signs of life from Ravens’ stagnant running game in loss to Packers

Posted on 13 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(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.

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Harbaugh takes responsibility for abandonment of running game

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Harbaugh takes responsibility for abandonment of running game

Posted on 30 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Head coach John Harbaugh was prepared for questions about the Ravens’ ugly 23-20 loss to Buffalo and the utter disappearance of the running game.

For those mystified over a measly nine rushing attempts — two in the second half — the blame fell squarely on the coach’s shoulders as he addressed the media on Monday. The number of rushes was a record low in the 18-year history of the franchise in Baltimore.

“That’s my call all the way. I just felt like we weren’t running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball,” said Harbaugh, who added that he respected differing opinions about the lack of rushing attempts. “Looking back on it, I feel the same way. After watching the tape, I feel we did exactly the right thing to try to win that game. So, no second-guessing myself on that. That was my decision, and that’s the way we went with it.”

The fact that Harbaugh and the Ravens were so willing to throw in the towel on their running game in favor of throwing 31 straight passes from the latter portion of the second quarter until there was 4:52 remaining in the game speaks volumes about their lack of confidence. The Ravens are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice collected just 17 yards on five carries while backup Bernard Pierce gained seven yards on four attempts against the Bills.

The Ravens’ abandonment of the ground game came against a Buffalo defense that entered Sunday ranked 30th in the league against the run and had surrendered 182 rushing yards a week earlier against the Jets.

Baltimore’s inability to run the football has caused many to begin pointing fingers with the most scrutiny falling on second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who was given the task of replacing 15-year veteran Matt Birk this offseason. The 2012 fourth-round pick hasn’t been alone in his struggles as all five members of the line haven’t met expectations, but the responsibility of making the calls at the line of scrimmage has been an adjustment for everyone.

“It’s the difference between Gino and Matt with the calls, and we’re feeling that in there right now,” Harbaugh said. “Gino is a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So, that’s something that we’re working through. The rest of the offensive line — we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to run block better.

“We’ve got to make decisions scheme-wise about what’s best for our guys to do, exactly what schemes those are. We’ve got to come off the ball in the run game a lot better than we’re doing, and we’ve got to be more physical with the inside part of our pass protection and give Joe [Flacco] more depth to the pocket and keep Joe more clean.”

The other individual receiving heat for the line’s poor performance has been new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, who joined Harbaugh’s staff this offseason and unofficially moved ahead of offensive line coach Andy Moeller in the pecking order. Though he earned a sterling reputation for his work in Philadelphia for over a decade, the Ravens have struggled to pick up the adjustments made to the inside zone blocking schemes.

Many have opined that the Ravens’ personnel up front is better suited to run more of a man-power style, but Harbaugh downplayed the significance of any wrinkles added by Castillo to the team’s offensive line philosophy from previous seasons.

“It’s the same offense. We still run the same plays,” Harbaugh said. “We still have the same philosophy; there are always a few wrinkles. That’s why I brought Juan in, because I was excited about things I knew he was going to bring to the table and bring to our program. Those things are a part of what we’re doing. We’re not the same team we were two months ago, and we’re going to be a different team two months from now.”

No sugarcoating Dickson’s struggles

Tight end Ed Dickson’s struggles to catch the football continued Sunday as an contested pass from quarterback Joe Flacco clanked off the fourth-year player’s hands and into the arms of Bills safety Jim Leonhard in the second quarter.

Asked what the biggest difference was between Dickson now and the tight end who caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns during the 2011 season, Harbaugh wasn’t in the mood to mince words.

“That’s a long time ago, so I’m hard-pressed to make that direct comparison,” Harbaugh said. “The stats kind of speak for themselves that you’re alluding to. He’s not the same player right now that he was then, obviously.”

Dickson has dropped six passes this year with the Ravens hoping he would pick up the slack for the injured Dennis Pitta. His 6-foot-4 frame and good speed suggested he has the tools to be a quality NFL tight end, but his time appears to be running out in a free-agent year for the 2010 third-round pick.

“Ed just needs to go catch the ball,” Harbaugh said. “He needs to run fast, get open and catch the football, put it away and get up field. That’s all he needs to do. And if he’s thinking about anything besides that, he’s doing himself a disservice. If he’s lacking confidence for some reason, that’s on him. [If] you’ve got that kind of talent and those kinds of gifts, go play ball.”

Injury report

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Making only their second regular-season trip to Buffalo in the 18-year history of the franchise, the Ravens will try to move to 3-1 at the quarter pole despite a plethora of injuries and offensive inconsistency in the month of September.

At 1-2 and playing rookie EJ Manuel at quarterback, the Bills don’t appear to be a major threat on paper, but their losses to the Patriots and Jets were by a combined nine points and they possess the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. However, the Bills’ injury situation is even worse than the Ravens as they have already ruled out five players for Sunday’s game.

It’s time to go on record as these teams meet for the sixth time in the regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 3-2 edge. The Ravens are 0-1 at Ralph Wilson Stadium after dropping a 19-14 final there in 2007 but won the most recent meeting between Baltimore and Buffalo, a 37-34 overtime final at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look for their first road win of the season …

1. The Ravens’ struggling running game will eclipse the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Much has been made about the abysmal 2.6 yards per carry average on the ground — 31st in the NFL — but Baltimore has faced talented front sevens in each of the first three games. The Bills are tied for 30th against the run and gave up 182 yards on the ground to the Jets last week, leaving the Ravens no excuse to get their running game on track in Week 4. Ray Rice isn’t guaranteed to play, but backup Bernard Pierce will receive a larger-than-normal workload even if the former is available. Players and coaches continue to say the offensive line and running game are close to being righted and they’ll take a step in the right direction this week. A strong performance against the Bills doesn’t mean the running game is “fixed,” but it will make everyone feel a lot better.

2. Wide receiver Torrey Smith will exploit a banged-up Buffalo secondary for a long touchdown score. Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin and free safety Jairus Byrd are both listed as questionable and cornerback Stephon Gilmore is out for Sunday’s game, leaving what’s already a questionable secondary — ranked 19th in the NFL — that much flimsier. Smith is off to a strong start this season, but the Ravens have been forced to use him differently as he’s caught more short-to-intermediate passes and was even lining up in the slot a fair amount in the Houston game. However, the Ravens made it a point to go vertical to Smith early in the second half against the Texans and the big yardage eventually paid off with a touchdown later in the drive. The third-year wide receiver will find the end zone for the first time this season, adding to his already-impressive numbers through the first quarter of the year.

3. The Baltimore defense will surrender its first touchdown since the season opener, but Dean Pees’ unit will force two turnovers. The Ravens have made a major statement over the last two weeks to convince observers that the season-opening debacle was the aberration and not who they are defensively. However, Pees talked earlier in the week about his defense needing to force more turnovers as they only have three takeaways in their first three games, which is tied for 10th in the AFC. With the offense struggling to find its identity, the Ravens will need their defense to not only perform at a high level on a weekly basis but create short fields for their offensive counterparts. Manuel has thrown only one interception in his first three games, but a ferocious pass rush could force a sack-and-strip play if the rookie isn’t aware in the pocket and the secondary will be the benefactor of the pressure upfront. The Bills’ read option won’t give the Ravens too much trouble as there’s too much speed and discipline in the front seven for Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller to have huge days.

4. Flacco will continue his trend of posting pedestrian numbers while being efficient on third down and taking care of the football. Nothing about the Super Bowl XLVII MVP’s stats impress you or will garner Pro Bowl consideration to this point in the season, but you have to admire the way he’s played without his top two receiving options from last season. Beyond Smith, the Ravens lack speed at the wide receiver and tight end positions, making it a necessity for Flacco to read defenses better than ever and to trust what he sees. Flacco’s highest completion percentage (62.8 percent) has come on third down this season as the Ravens are converting 44.4 percent of their third-down opportunities (eighth in the NFL) with very little help from the running game. He won’t have a 300-yard game, but Flacco will throw two touchdowns and — just as importantly — won’t have any big turnovers to give the Bills a chance to swing the momentum of the game.

5. The Ravens won’t make it pretty, but they will remain in control in a 24-16 win to improve to 3-1. No one thinks the Bills are as good as Baltimore, but expecting the Ravens to blow out anyone — unless they have the benefit of a defensive score and a special-teams touchdown like last week — on the road with their inconsistent offense is wishful thinking until they prove otherwise. The running game will appear competent but is still a work in progress and Flacco will be efficient once again, but the defense will be the biggest reason why the Ravens will improve to 3-1. Buffalo appears to have potential with Manuel at the helm, but the rookie isn’t ready to deal with another relentless pass rush after he was sacked eight times by the Jets last week. The score will remain close, but the Ravens won’t struggle to the point of making you think they’re in serious danger of losing to Buffalo, either.

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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

To see the Ravens offense struggle through the first three weeks of the 2013 season isn’t surprising — or at least it shouldn’t have been.

There’s no underselling the losses of tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin — the pillars on which quarterback Joe Flacco relied last season — and how they would impact the passing game in the early stages of the season. Growing pains were expected as Flacco is still developing chemistry with every pass-catching target not named Torrey Smith, but the Ravens figured they could rely on their running game more heavily, especially in the early stages of the season.

But the results haven’t been there. In fact, the Ravens have one of the worst running games in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season in averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, ranking 31st in the league and only ahead of 0-3 Jacksonville. With Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, highly-regarded backup Bernard Pierce, and Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach in tow, there’s simply no excuse for the overall lack of production.

“It’s going to be important, and we have the people to do it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got some big, strong, tough offensive lineman, and we have really good backs. Our fullback [Vonta Leach] is the best blocking fullback in the league. The run game is something that has to happen for us.”

But it hasn’t and there have been a number of factors working against the Ravens through the early stages of the season. It would be unfair to overlook the fronts the Ravens have played as Denver, Cleveland, and Houston all rank in the top 5 in rushing yards per attempt surrendered. Expecting Baltimore to be gashing opponents in the running game would be unreasonable, but it still doesn’t excuse such an ineffective ground attack.

The absence of reliable targets in the passing game has prompted opposing defense to often play an extra defender in the box, creating problems when it comes to the simple number of blockers against defenders. Whether attempting to run to set up the pass or to throw to open up the running game, the Ravens have been spinning their wheels more often than not with an offense ranking 30th in total yards and 20th in passing yards. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg question in which the Ravens are trying to figure out whether their passing game can breathe life into the running game or vice versa.

The Ravens are working with a new center in second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski, who replaced the retired Matt Birk and is responsible for making the calls for blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage. Besides the void in leadership, the Ravens have also been challenged up the middle by beefier defensive linemen against the undersized Gradkowski.

And Baltimore is even dealing with a new voice on the coaching staff as run-game coordinator Juan Castillo is running the show for the offensive line and the implementation of his inside zone blocking schemes appears to be a mixed bag at best thus far.

But the Ravens’ problems in the running game run deeper than the aforementioned variables as even reliable run blockers such as Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher have struggled more than you’d typically expect so far.

“We do feel like we understand it and we’re working on it,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it can be corrected. We’re not getting the production from the run game that we should, but we also feel like we’re on our way to getting that done. We just have to do it; you just have to go out there and get it done.”

A look back at the Ravens’ performance in the running game against Houston makes it difficult to pinpoint one specific problem above the rest. All five starting linemen missed assignments at different points, Pierce missed several running lanes, the Texans stacked eight men in the box on occasion, and backside pursuit was even a problem as defenders dragged down ball carriers from behind on a few occasions. Whether it was running to the strong side or the weak side of the line, it didn’t seem to matter as Pierce’s run off right tackle for 25 yards to end the third quarter was the only real bright spot for the ground attack.

Again, the Ravens have played talented defenses this season, but the sum of their talented parts hasn’t added up to even marginal success in most cases. Even in the fourth quarter when many credited the Ravens for wearing down Houston, they managed only 28 yards on 13 carries and needed to rely on Flacco’s arm for third-down conversions.

“One guy here, one miss there, one bad target in another place, each time that’s what holds you back,” Harbaugh said. “Their safeties do a great job of tackling, so they limit you from the big runs. Our run game is not where it needs to be. We’re going to go to work on that — we have been working on it. We’ll continue to do so, and we need to make that important. One thing we’ve seen that, philosophically, we’re going to stick with it.”

Of all the factors working against the Ravens in the running game, perhaps the most surprising has been the play of the left side of the offensive line. While veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie has never been known as a strong run blocker, left guard Kelechi Osemele has looked nothing like the blocker we saw in last year’s postseason when many thought he had the potential to be a Pro Bowl lineman.

Harbaugh wasn’t willing to place blame on any one player or unit in explaining the running game struggles Monday, but it’s apparent the offensive line hasn’t been on the same page. And even when it has been, running backs haven’t made the proper zone reads.

“All of our guys are going to point the finger right back at themselves,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the kind of guys we have. I would characterize it more of being in sync, more in terms of working together more efficiently – combination blocks going to the right guy with the right technique at the right time. Those things – it’s not just a matter of just one-on-one knocking somebody off the ball. That’s not the way it works. It’s way more complicated than that up front.

“There’s a precision to the run game, too. It’s something that we don’t quite have ironed out yet against good fronts, and we’ve got to get there. That’s what we’re working on.”

Whether it’s a matter of still adjusting to Castillo or simply getting used to Gradkowski over the veteran Birk, the Ravens must improve with their ground attack to alleviate the pressure on Flacco and an undermanned passing game. On paper, the personnel is simply too good to be so unproductive — even against talented front sevens.

The real gauge for how severe the run problems are will come on Sunday when the Ravens travel to Buffalo to take on a Bills defense that’s surrendering 4.3 yards per carry and 155 yards per game on the ground. Even if Rice misses his second straight game with a left hip flexor strain, there’s no excuse for the Ravens not to make substantial progress with their running game against an underwhelming opponent.

To their credit, the Ravens haven’t abandoned their commitment to run — their 88 rushing attempts rank 10th in the league — but that only goes so far when you’re gaining minimal yardage on first and second down and putting Flacco and the passing game in difficult third-down situations. They know it needs to be an important part of their identity in 2013, but the production on the field hasn’t backed that up.

“It’s something that we think is important,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to be able to run the ball here. It is a part of our DNA, and it is part of who we are as a football team.”

And it’s a side of the Ravens they need to start showing if their offense is to make strides as the season progresses.

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 22 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each (Tim Horsey played the role of Ryan Chell for Week 4.)

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 30-9 win over the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday…

Glenn’s Pats…

5. Gino Gradkowski

 

4. Dean Pees

 

3. Haloti Ngata

 

2. Torrey Smith

 

1. Daryl Smith (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Browns

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Browns

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Torrey Smith 23 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 6 (3rd quarter)

4. Marlon Brown 10 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 7 (3rd quarter)

3. Brandon Stokley 11 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 8 (3rd quarter)

2. Marlon Brown 5 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

1. Brandon Weeden deep pass intended for Chris Ogbonnaya incomplete (3rd quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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