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Explosive plays lacking for Ravens offense

The Ravens offense produced plenty of fireworks last season, especially in the playoffs, with big chunk plays down the field. Those 20-plus-yard plays have fizzled out this season, particularly in recent weeks.

Right now, the Ravens are tied for 21st in the NFL with 34 plays of 20 or more yards. They have produced just six such plays in their last four games, three of which were losses. And they have just two big plays in the past two weeks, and one was aided by a 15-yard penalty but still technically counted.

“It’s something that we’re working on,” coach John Harbaugh said. “To analyze it, put the reasons out there, it wouldn’t really help us as a football team. We’ll let people figure that out for themselves. Our task is to get better. We need big plays, that’s for sure. We need chunk plays in the run game. We need over-the-top pass plays. We need catch-and-run pass plays. Those are things that can make the difference for us.”

Last season, they set a franchise record with 72 plays of 20 or more yards, many of them coming through the air. This year, though, quarterback Joe Flacco has had trouble connecting with his receivers deep down the field. Pass protection and the play of the wide receivers are factors. Flacco has also been erratic in recent weeks.

Flacco hit wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 41-yard catch in the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two weeks later, Smith had a 46-yard reception in the loss to the Cleveland Browns. In last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears, they produced a 21-yard pass play, but 15 of those yards came on a penalty for a horse collar tackle.

Flacco has completed just 10 of his 53 attempts beyond 20 yards for a total of 429 passing yards. Five have been intercepted and none have gone for touchdowns.

“We have guys on the outside that can do that, and can get deep,” Flacco said. “We have to do our job and take those chances. We probably haven’t been taking as many as normal and we probably haven’t been as successful as we normally would be when we do them. That’s kind of how we’ve been with every facet of our game this year.”

The Ravens rank 14th in the NFL with 31 big pass plays. They have also been lacking in the running game. Running back Ray Rice rumbled for a 47-yard gain against the Bears. It was by far his longest run of the season. The Ravens as a team have produced just three runs of 20 or more yards, which ranks 27th in the NFL.

While the lack of big plays, both through the air and on the ground, is just one of a handful of issues, the Ravens would really benefit from a couple more per week.

“It’s just all on execution,” Smith said. “There is no one thing that we can pinpoint. It’s been something different all the time, as is with low-percentage throws. It’s the hardest ball to complete. ... Obviously, it’s been frustrating, but if we get a couple of those to go in a game like we did in the past, it will do wonders for our team.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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