Preston: Ravens offense is a work in progress

Ravens coach John Harbaugh raised a few eyebrows Sunday afternoon when he said the Ravens offense was as far along as it could be following the team's 30-9 win over the Houston Texans.

After all, the Ravens had gained only 236 yards of total offense and the $120 million quarterback Joe Flacco had only completed 16 of 24 passes for 171 yards and had a quarterback rating of 87.3. Plus, there was no dominant running game.

But Harbaugh was right. At this point of the season offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell should be commended for milking his talent and getting two wins out of three games.

His job hasn't been easy. He has played nearly three games without two of his best receivers who are injured, Jacoby Jones (knee) and tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), and No. 1 running back Ray Rice missed Sunday's game because of a strained hip flexor.

What did you expect?

"We are going to have some growing pains throughout the first couple of weeks," Flacco said. "I have said all along the biggest thing will be can we win while we have those. So far, the last two weeks we haven't played great, but we've managed to win football games against two pretty good football teams. We have to continue to get better and come out next week flying around."

The Ravens will continue to get better, but there might not be evidence for a few more weeks. They need time for injuries to heal and for players like tight end Dallas Clark and wide receivers Brandon Stokley and Marlon Brown to get fully acclimated with the offense.

Until then, they need to stay with the conservative approach. There is no need to have Flacco throwing the ball 35 to 40 times a game, not with the defense playing so well.

Flacco is getting some criticism because he isn't lighting up the scoreboard and racking up 300-yard games. Some fans expected that after Flacco got a new contract soon after the Ravens Super Bowl victory.

But the Ravens don't have the right resources in place right now. Granted, Flacco hasn't played up to his postseason performance last winter, but the Ravens have only one real legitimate vertical threat, Torrey Smith, who can stretch defenses.

Jones can, but no one knows exactly when he will return. Brown can't because he doesn't have great speed, and neither does Stokley or Clark.

Tight end Ed Dickson can, but he can't catch. The passing game is also limited because Flacco's pass protection has been poor in the first three games. Even though the Texans sacked Flacco only twice, he was hurried or knocked around often.

It just makes so much sense for the Ravens to stay in the conservative mode, and allow Flacco to manage the game, which he did well Sunday regardless of the field position.

The offense will get better. People tend to forget that both the Cleveland Browns and Texans play good defense, and that Stokley and Clark didn't join the Ravens until late in training camp.

Clark had four catches for 46 yards against the Texans and he was targeted seven times.

"They've still only been here a couple of weeks," Flacco said. "They have to get their feet under them to really get confident in our offense. They are two guys who are going to get better and better as the year goes on. Just like our young guys along with our running backs. You know guys like Tandon Doss. All these guys are going to get better and better and better. The fact that we've won a couple of football games in the process is huge."

Clark said: "We're definitely not a great team yet, but we've got the components. We're building, we're working, we have a lot to work on and we have a lot to improve on, but we're coming."

It will get better when Rice returns. Backup Bernard Pierce gave a solid performance Sunday, but he doesn't pose the same threat as Rice out of the backfield.

Jones speed should open up some options. Opposing teams won't be able to rotate to Smith as much because they have to honor Jones' speed. Having two vertical threats on the outside should open up the middle for the tight ends, especially in 2-deep coverage.

One area, though, that still is a concern is the offensive line. Both tackles, Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, have struggled with speed rushers and might need help in double teams which would take away from the passing game.

But overall, this offense will get better. Right now, don't get too carried away with the yards per game or the points.

Against the Texans, the Ravens showed a killer instinct with the long drive to open the third quarter and a strong running game in the fourth which took away Houston's heart.

That was impressive. Now, we're just waiting for more to come.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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