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It is efficient and effective when the Ravens get in a groove, but for the overall good of the football team, it may be time to make the no-huddle offense a part-time thing.
We gasped as the no-huddle, full-throttle Ravens offense put up a franchise-record 121 points in the first four weeks of the 2012 season. After hitting a speed bump in their Week 5 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens were back in cruise control in their 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. But then the entire power train dropped out of the car in Sunday's 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans. The Ravens mustered just 176 yards on 59 plays -- an atrocious average of 3.0 yards per play -- and the offense was technically worth four points after giving the Texans nine first-half points on a safety and an interception returned for a touchdown. The Ravens had more three-and-outs (five) than points (three) in the first half, quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions for the first time since last December, and running back Ray Rice got a season-low nine carries. The Ravens nearly had more passes batted down (11) than first downs (12). And the offensive line allowed four sacks on the long, sloppy afternoon.
"I thought we opened up pretty good. We had a good first drive. And hey, we went up against a good defense today," said Flacco, who completed 21 of 43 attempts for a touchdown and two interceptions. "We all could have done things better, starting with myself. But I don't really have an answer for you."
But the most troubling offensive stat for the team as a whole was the time of possession. The Texans hogged the ball for more than 38 minutes Sunday, a week after the Cowboys held it for more than 40. On the season, the Ravens are losing the time of possession battle by nearly eight minutes, and it has clearly started to take its toll on a defense that has been ravaged by key injuries and a few costly defections in the offseason. Their average time of possession (26:06) is a little misleading, as they are usually taking less time between plays than their opponents and the clock stops whenever one of Flacco's passes hits the ground. But on the season, opponents have run 86 more plays than the Ravens.
I know many of you guys will hate that I'm going to do this, especially after a game like Sunday's, but credit should go to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for turning the Ravens into an offense that will likely finish in the top 10 in points scored. It took some time for the pieces to come together and for Flacco to learn how to shift gears, but the Ravens are now capable of quickly erasing big leads, even if they weren't able to do it Sunday. But there are a couple of major problems with the tempo they are playing at, and maybe the Ravens should consider slowing things down after this well-timed bye week.
First, the Ravens are limiting the effectiveness of their best offensive player -- Rice -- and putting the pressure on the team's weakest link: the defense. Sunday was one of those infamous "Cam under fire" games that infuriate the fan base. The Ravens ran the ball well on their first drive, which stalled when Flacco threw three straight passes inside Texans territory, forcing them to kick a field goal. On the next drive, Flacco threw three more passes, and then the Ravens punted. Rice was not a factor on their third drive, either. Soon, the AFC showdown got out of hand, and Rice got just six carries the rest of the way. With the Ravens unable to sustain drives, the Texans quickly wore down the Ravens defense, which couldn't stop the running game in the second half even though everyone in Reliant Stadium knew it was coming. And with the Ravens trailing by three or four scores, Rice had a season-low 54 yards from scrimmage.
Second, and I don't think I need to elaborate too much on this one, their no-huddle offense clearly is not the same on the road. The Ravens have said that crowd noise in their own stadium bothers them, and when their passes start hitting the turf and opposing fans start screaming louder before the snap, the offense starts to spiral out of control. It's hard to establish your offensive identity as a hurry-up, shotgun, spread-the-ball-around offense when you can only do it eight of the 16 dates on your schedule.
The Ravens have put a lot of time, energy and elbow grease into making this offense go, but based on how the team has performed the past three weeks, especially the defense, it might be best to scrap the no-huddle as their everyday mode of transportation for the time being. Instead, they should keep it in the garage for when it is really needed -- or at least until the defense can get a much-needed tune-up.
October 21, 2012