Added Pryce: "At 360 pounds or whatever he weighs, Bryant is a gigantic mountain of a man. They don't win a Super Bowl without him coming in at that key time. At his age, football is a very difficult game. Bryant is a guy who comes in to save the day, that's what they're paying him the money they pay him to put him on the left side of Joe Flacco. As he gets into better shape, his play should pick up."

The Ravens replaced Birk with Gino Gradowkski, another adjustment for an offense that had grown accustomed to the veteran savvy and continuity it had with Birk.

"Of course, they miss Birk," Pryce said. "I'm seeing some push inside against the line that I've never seen before with them."

Against the Texans, Flacco threw 16 of his 24 passes to Smith and Clark as they combined for nine receptions for 138 yards. Flacco, who has passed for 744 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for an 80.0 quarterback rating, did connect on a season-long 48-yard pass to Smith. The Ravens hope it's a sign of progress for the NFL's 20th-ranked passing offense.

"We can't force anything," Flacco said. "We still have to take chances. It's not like they're high-percentage all the time. That's the risk that you take. Overall, we just have to click a little bit more on everything we're doing."

Meanwhile, the running game has taken a major step backward this season, averaging 77.3 yards per game to rank 25th overall in rushing offense and 2.6 yards per carry after gaining 118.8 per game and 4.3 yards per carry last season.

The Ravens finished last season with 1,901 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. They're now on pace to finish with 1,236 yards.

"It's going to take a little bit of time for it to gel, for there to be trust and for it to kind of mesh," offensive guard Kelechi Osemele said. "We have to establish the run game and make it easier for Jim to call whatever he wants to call and open things up for Joe. We've got to be patient. It's early, not even midseason yet. It's going to take a while."

The Ravens are banking on Rice, a multi-dimensional runner and receiver, returning for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills after being out last week with a strained left hip flexor. With Rice expected back, barring a setback, the offense should have more versatility.

Even when Rice was playing in the first two games, though, the offense didn't hit stride as he rushed for 72 yards on 25 carries with 11 receptions for 44 yards.

"He's a game-breaker," Caldwell said. "He's like lightning in a bottle. Having him certainly opens things up. You have to be concerned about him. He feels good right now, so things are going well."

The Ravens have gotten off to slow starts each of the past weeks, scoring no points in the first quarter. For the season, they've scored just seven points in the first quarter.

Overall, they've scored 34 points in the first half and 37 points in the second half.

"We need to get off to a better start," Caldwell said. "We need to certainly put it together and be able to
perform like we've been performing in the second half."

Despite the struggles, Caldwell expects the offense to eventually break through after producing just 236 total yards and 16 first downs against the Texans that was sparked by middle linebacker Daryl Smith returning an interception for a touchdown and wide receiver Tandon Doss scoring on a punt return.

For now, patience remains the Ravens' mantra.

"We have to just continue to improve, and I think you'll see our production go up a little bit more," Caldwell said. "I think you're going to see guys get a little bit more comfortable with one another in terms of what we're doing. We have got to get better. We have to be better than we were last week, that's for sure."

awilson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RavensInsider