Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t spend time Monday listening to the outside opinions and hot takes about the state of his football team after a 26-9 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s been around the game long enough, though, to know that when the offense is struggling, the quarterback is catching much of the blame for it.
Harbaugh didn’t dispute the assertion Monday that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is leaving some potential big plays on the field. However, the 10th-year head coach said “everybody’s got to get better” and again dismissed the possibility of making significant changes to fix an offense that is among the worst in the NFL by just about every statistical measure.
“We just have to keep working all those things that we do. We're not going to change dramatically what we do,” Harbaugh said. “You can't panic and say, 'OK, we're going to do something different.' Within our offense, we have all the elements — different ways to attack people, different tempos, different types of three-, five- and seven-step passing game. We can move, we can boot, we can keep, we can play-action. We have all that. It's how do we put it together in a way each week that gives our guys a chance to execute the best?”
As the Ravens turned their focus away from the disappointing loss to their archrivals and on to Sunday’s road game against the Oakland Raiders (2-2), their clear priority remains fixing an offense that has given them virtually no chance to win the past two weeks.
The Flacco-led Ravens have been shut out in the first half in consecutive games, and they’ve managed points on just three of their 24 offensive drives over the past two weeks in blowout losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Steelers.
Frustration seemed to peak Sunday with veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin spiking his helmet on the sideline and yelling in the director of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in the second quarter and Flacco providing a blunt assessment of his own performance in saying, “I sucked.”
“Joe said yesterday it starts with him, and so ... that's good that he said that, that he thinks that way. That's what the great ones think,” Harbaugh said. “That's something we've just got to help him with. We'll do that. I want to see him play well. I want to see him put up numbers and make plays. But it's not just him. It's the offense in totality that has to do that.”
Harbaugh made clear the offensive line is one area that needs to be improved. Flacco was sacked four times by the Steelers and hit six times.
“He’s getting hit too much. We’ve got to work on that,” Harbaugh said. “You keep your quarterback clean, your quarterback is going to be a lot better. Joe is tough. Joe just wants to get the ball out in an accurate way and he wants to be able to read things out. When you consistently keep the quarterback clean, I think it builds a certain rhythm to your offense. We have to figure out how to do that.”
The Ravens are averaging just 15 points per game, tied with the New York Giants for the second fewest in the league. They are averaging 269.8 total yards per game, which also ranks 30th. Their passing game is last in the NFL as the team’s 143 passing yards per game are 29 yards short of the average of the Buffalo Bills, the second-least productive team through the air.
In his 10th year, Flacco is off to the worst start of his career. He ranks last in total passing yards (601) among every-week starters and yards per attempt (5.09). His six interceptions are the second most in the league behind the eight thrown by Cleveland Browns rookie starter DeShone Kizer who is the only quarterback with a worse rating than Flacco’s 65.0.
Flacco ranks 22nd in completion percentage (.619) and 24th in touchdown passes (four). Aside from the first half of the Ravens’ Week 2 victory over the Browns and a drive here or there, Flacco has struggled to accomplish anything positive.
“We’ve got to execute. That’s where it starts. That’s the basics of it,” Flacco said after Sunday’s game. “We have to get some energy. We’ve got to get some confidence — all of the above.”
To a man, the Ravens offensive players Sunday maintained that the team has enough talent and firepower to put up big numbers. They seemed at a loss, however, to explain why it’s not happening.
“There are so many things that go into making an offense work,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “Everybody has to work together. If one little thing is off, it will ruin the whole offense. We all have to be on the same page and find a middle ground on offense. We just need to make plays. I feel like we have too many good players to not make plays.”
Said tight end Benjamin Watson: “We’re not executing, we’re not doing what we need to do on an individual or collective effort in order to move the football. It’s tough to not get first downs and have the defense have to go back out there.”
The past two weeks, the Ravens’ inability to maintain a drive has forced the defense to spend far more time on the field, and a unit that was dominant through the first two weeks has worn down.
On the Ravens’ 48 offensive drives this season, not counting a kneel-down to seal the victory over the Browns, 15 have been three-and-outs and 22 have lasted three plays or fewer. Seven of them have netted negative yards. So after either getting a stop or giving up an extended drive of their own, the defense has had to go right back onto the field.
Even when the Ravens have scored, the defense has played a big role in setting them up with a turnover. Of the team’s 11 scoring drives this year, four started inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. The Ravens have been able to establish a running game — they rank ninth in the league with 127.3 rushing yards per game — but they haven’t been able to do anything downfield.
“We tried to throw the ball [Sunday] a little more, but you've got to make some plays,” Harbaugh said. “It's never one thing in any area. You can pinpoint this that and the other and look at different plays, it's different areas. That's why everybody's got to work together to get a little bit better in every single area. Then plays start getting made and things looking a lot better. It's never black and white. It's never a total positive or a total negative. It's usually just putting it all together in a way it clicks. When it clicks, it looks good. When it doesn't click, it doesn't look good. So we can do that. We're capable of doing that. You saw the plays yesterday that we're close on. We've got to keep working to get that done, and we can.”