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Ravens offense should still be focused on the run

Performance against lowly Rams pass defense was misleading

By Mike Preston, The Baltimore Sun

8:54 PM EDT, September 26, 2011

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Just a few minutes had passed after the Ravens' rout of St. Louis, and Joe Flacco had taken his place at the podium. It was entertaining because Flacco was actually excited about the Ravens' passing game, and we all know that the quarterback isn't exactly Mr. Excitement.

But this time, he was giddy talking about his new receivers, the team's offensive attack mode and how this could lead to a Super Bowl.

Then I thought about what was coming next. The kid might ask for the keys to the offense. When you play against the Rams defense, it can make you delusional. In the Rams secondary, they think the bump and run is the latest dance. They think a Cover 2 is a new dish at Taco Bell.

Despite Flacco's excitement about the Ravens pass-happy offense, here's hoping that the powers that be over at The Castle remember the offseason goal to have a dominant running game again, and that this is the East Coast, not San Diego or some city where the game is played indoor.

And no offense to Jovial Joe-Joe either, but he isn't Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.

With that said, you like where the Ravens seem to be headed with the offense. Rookie receiver Torrey Smith and his speed have now become an official concern for defenses. If the Ravens can get Lee Evans healthy and put him on one side, Smith on the other and let Anquan Boldin work the underneath stuff, they could have something special.

Flacco struggled throwing the long ball his first three seasons in the league, but looked comfortable airing it out against Pittsburgh in the opener, and Sunday against St. Louis. But the Ravens aren't going to become the old San Diego Chargers of Don Coryell. Not soon anyway.

To become pass happy, you better have one of the top five quarterbacks in the league to guarantee success, and Flacco isn't in that class yet. Plus head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome are old school.

Harbaugh hung around Bo Schembechler when his dad, Jack, was an assistant at Michigan. Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, played 13 seasons in Cleveland. He knows how unpredictable the weather is on the East Coast, especially in November, December and January.

He also knows the standard formula for success in the NFL.

"To win in this league you have to run the football and you have to run it in third and short and fourth and short," Newsome said in an interview earlier this season.

That's why the Ravens signed fullback Vonta Leach, and giant left tackle Bryant McKinnie. They want to smack people around. If you look at Green Bay's offensive line, you see a great technical group, one built for pass protection. The Ravens, with players such as Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda, are built for wreckage.

If this offensive line is a work in progress, as it has been labeled, then it's easier to coordinate the running game than pass blocking, especially with all the blitzing and pressure coming from defenses these days.

The Ravens don't need to be one-dimensional. There was nothing wrong with running back Ray Rice having only eight carries against the Rams. Every team should have offensive balance, and the Ravens are trying to accomplish that goal. But come Sunday night against the New York Jets, they probably won't be able to throw much against Jets cornerbacks Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie (whose status for the game is uncertain due to bruised lungs and ribs.)

The basis of any offense should be running the ball. It's just so simple. It keeps your defense off the field. It can hide weaknesses like an inconsistent quarterback, a weak secondary or not being able to get pressure on an opposing quarterback. There is nothing more humiliating and taxing than a couple of long drives during a game.

Football has changed over the years with defenses attacking more. It's hard to construct three or four long drives a game. But that's also why the Ravens signed Evans and drafted Smith. They wanted home run hitters, players who could stretch defenses and also help open up the running and passing games.

The Ravens wanted equalizers.

"When you watch these players in September and then you watch these guys in October or November, they are going to be different players," said Newsome. "They are going to be better players. I just think we can handle that fast ball."

"When somebody just lines up and tries to run it against us we can handle that, but we can also handle teams that are going to put a lot of skill on the field that we've failed against," he said. "When you play New England or you play against a Green Bay and they put four wides out there on you and then they get you in a fast break game. I think we can play that game now and I think this team will grow as the season progresses."

Newsome and Harbaugh want to be able to play in any type of game, regardless of the situation. After watching the Rams game Sunday, it's apparent the Ravens have some weapons, but also a lot of work to do. Smith and tight end Ed Dickson need to become more consistent. Evans' ankle has to heal. Flacco has to show he can play well week-in and week-out against good teams.

At this point, the Ravens can't get ahead of themselves. They should stay within the goals they set during the offseason.

Those were the Rams, you know.

mike.preston@baltsun.com