Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel breaks down the Ravens' loss.
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The offensive implosion Sunday was a collective failure, and you could point your finger at most of the people in the offensive meeting room and they would probably be at least partially to blame.
Shortly after the Ravens' blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals, an offensive outburst that many national analysts viewed as the coronation of Joe Flacco as an "elite" quarterback (I feel like there have been a few of these such games in the past 12-and-a-half months), the quarterback remarked that it wouldn't take long for his critics to rear their heads. Try six days. Flacco threw for 92 yards and a touchdown on 14-for-17 passing as the Ravens went into halftime up, 17-7, over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon, but the high-octane offense ran out of gas in the third quarter. He completed just two of his next 11 passes for 24 yards and an interception (which quickly led to a Philadelphia touchdown). His passer rating over that stretch was 1.7 -- which was less than my freshman-year GPA in college, and that's really saying something. His play started to improve late in the third quarter, mainly because there was nowhere to go but up, but the Ravens mustered just two long field goals from Justin Tucker the rest of the game. In the desperate and discordant final drive, Flacco completed two of his eight attempts for 21 yards. The game unofficially ended with not-even-close incompletions on 3rd- and then 4th-and-1.
By the time I rushed out of the locker room and dipped into our post-game chat on the website, the armchair quarterbacks were already out -- and they were disgruntled. Flacco was taking a lot of the blame, about as much as the coaching staff, and I'm not going to try to convince you that Flacco was on his game. But the second-half implosion on offense was the result of much more than accuracy issues and lapses in sound decision-making from the fifth-year quarterback.
To be fair, Flacco was asked by the coaching staff to throw quite a lot -- and there were rarely open wide receivers for him to target. Eagles cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie often jammed the wide receivers at the line and played tight, physical -- some might argue too physical -- coverage down the field. As a result, the receivers couldn't get separation before Flacco counted to three seconds and got the ball out of his hands so Trent Cole and Jason Babin didn't have a rendezvous at his rib cage. Flacco attempted just 12 throws to wide receivers (he targeted tight end Dennis Pitta 15 times and Ray Rice 10 times), and if you take away that 40-yard bomb to Torrey Smith, he averaged 4.1 yards per attempt to his wide-outs.
That's why we are going to be hearing all week about Rice getting just 16 carries even though the passing game was woefully unproductive in the second half. A lot will be made -- and maybe should be made -- about the decision to throw it those final two plays when the Ravens had plenty of time to try to pick up 1 yard on the ground. (For what it's worth, coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens thought about running it in that situation and he admitted that it was fair to question the decision to throw the ball there.) But I think the bigger mistake was not giving the ball to Rice, who had 78 yards on seven carries in the first half, until nearly 10 minutes into the third quarter. By then, the 10-point lead was gone after an interception and a three-and-out. After the game, Rice didn't complain about his role or about the Ravens not running the ball once in the six times they needed 2 yards or less on third or fourth down (they didn't pick up a first down on any of those pass plays). But Rice said the Ravens need to have fullback Vonta Leach in the game more. You can probably go ahead and read between the lines there, since Leach's primary job is to block for Rice.
Flacco will bounce back and his wide receivers will go up against lesser corners than Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie most Sundays. Rice will continue to make the most out of whatever opportunities are awarded to him. But even though he has put more faith in Flacco and he called one heck of a game against the Bengals, questions remain about Cam Cameron's play-calling and, fair or not, they will until the Ravens win a Super Bowl or Cameron is dismissed. That's the nature of the business. Cameron knows it, and he recently said he thrives when he is under fire. Well, the heat is going to be on Cameron, Flacco and the entire offense the next several days. We'll see if that's a good thing with the New England Patriots coming to town Sunday night.