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Why isn't offensive coordinator Cam Cameron getting running back Ray Rice the ball more?
Outspoken linebacker Terrell Suggs essentially asked that last question himself following a 12-7 loss Monday night to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that was as hard to watch as the result was for the Ravens (4-2) to stomach.
"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had six carries," said Suggs, who also said that he didn't really know what the game plan was, and questioned why wide receiver Anquan Boldin didn't get the ball more. "This is a Pro Bowl running back you're talking about. They fed their horse. We have to feed our horse."
The Jaguars' "horse" — running back Maurice Jones-Drew — carried the ball 30 times for 105 yards. Rice actually had eight carries for only 28 yards, five catches for 35 yards and he fumbled once in Ravens' territory. Following Rice's fumble, he went more than 10 minutes before he got his next touch, though Harbaugh denied that had anything to do with the fumble.
"He's got to get more than eight carries," Harbaugh said at his news conference Tuesday. "When you're a play caller, you're searching for things to get you going, to get you jump-started. It wasn't like those eight carries were gashing them or anything like that either. We were looking for some things that we can do, searching a little bit for a way to get a first down. It wasn't so much about, 'Hey, you know what? Let's get so many carries to Ray Rice.' We were just trying to find a way to beat the defense and get a first down and get going. Because when you do that, that's when those carries start adding up … By the same token, eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice, there's no doubt about it."
Harbaugh also said that he had no problem with Suggs speaking out — "Terrell Suggs' heart is always in the right place," he said — and said that the player and team are "on the same page." Cameron also said following Monday's game that he "wholeheartedly" agreed with Suggs that Rice needs to get the ball more.
Either way, Rice's lack of involvement was just one of several issues that arose during one of the worst offensive performances in team history. Facing a team that had lost five straight games, the Ravens totaled 146 yards of offense and 90 of them came on their lone scoring drive, which ended with Flacco hitting Boldin in the back of the end zone to cut the Jaguars' lead to 9-7 with 2:02 play.
They had a franchise-worst 16 yards of total offense in the first half and didn't get a first down until Rice's 12-yard run with 5:29 left in the third quarter. They went just 2-of-12 on third down and averaged 2.8 yards per play. After the first half, Flacco, who caught his own deflected pass, was tied for the team lead in completions.
Flacco finished 21-of-38 for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and 10 of his completions came in the Ravens' one scoring drive. He now has a 52.1 completion percentage, which is 32nd among 34 qualifying quarterbacks, and a 76.2 quarterback rating, which ranks 26th.
"[The quarterback] always gets too much credit and gets too much blame," Harbaugh said. "I guarantee you this week, it's going to be too much blame. Everybody, starting with me on down, had a hand in the offensive performance and everybody is going to have a hand in straightening the thing out. That's what we do. We've done it before. It's not going to be a surprise when we bounce back."
It certainly won't, not with the one-win Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. But the reality is the offensive questions, specifically the ones about Flacco, won't stop until the Ravens manage to avoid such poor performances on a more consistent basis.
Against the Tennessee Titans in Week Two, Flacco went 15-of-32 and threw an interception as the Ravens totaled just 229 yards of offense. Two weeks later against the New York Jets, Flacco was 10-of-31 for 163 yards, committed two turnovers and misfired on 12 straight pass attempts at one point.
"We're a young football team," Flacco said when asked if he can pinpoint the reason for the Ravens' offensive inconsistency. "We're switching guys out and in up front. We need some time. Like I said, we got to win while we start gelling and we're really inconsistent right now. That's part of what's good about this. We're going to learn week-to-week and you'd like to learn while you're winning football games and thus far, we've done that. Just [Monday], we weren't able to do it. As the year goes on, we're going to get better and better. That's one of the upsides of this football team."
Flacco acknowledged that he expects a lot of the blame and finger-pointing to go in his direction, calling it the nature of his position. But it doesn't take much imagination or observation to conclude that the Ravens have other offensive issues.
With Lee Evans out, the Ravens have been forced to rely on a young group of pass catchers. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are second-year players. Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams — the Ravens' second and third receivers — are rookies, while No.4 receiver David Reed is also a second-year player.
When Flacco had time Monday, he often was forced to dump the ball off or throw into a tight space because the Ravens' receivers weren't consistently getting open and Boldin was getting double-teamed. Then, there were other times where Flacco just didn't have time to throw or was hit soon after he did, adding to the Ravens' offensive woes.
While many of his assistants spent the day planning for the Cardinals, Harbaugh looked at the offense, which he described as "wildly inconsistent." That's a process that will continue throughout the week as the outside scrutiny on Cameron, Flacco and the rest of the offense builds.
"It's warranted for all of us," Harbaugh said. "I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that. That's tough. It's just a bad performance and everyone knows it. Cam's got broad shoulders. He's a tough guy. He's been doing this for a long time. Everybody in this building respects him. Everybody is going to fight harder to make this offense achieve what it is capable of achieving. It's still early in the season, but we can't afford more performances like that."
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