The pass from quarterback Joe Flacco sailed over the outstretched hands of running back Ray Rice on fourth down, the Ravens' final short-yardage failure Sunday.
During a 24-23 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens converted none of their six short-yardage opportunities on third and fourth downs. In each situation, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called for a pass instead of running Rice behind All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
Cameron remains convinced it was the proper strategy, albeit not the best execution. He emphasized that the last sequence was longer than the 4th-and-1 listed in the official stat book, perhaps as long as two-and-half yards to gain the first down.
"I really felt good about the calls that we made," Cameron said. "If that was a legit third-and-1, we probably would have run the football or had the chance to. I like the idea of our quarterback having the ball in his hands, five potential receivers and the possibility of him to scramble and improvise versus running the football into two unblocked guys. That was the plan, we didn't execute it. I think that's probably the issue."
Flacco completed only 8 of 25 second-half passes with an interception on a third-and-short, a throw he forced into triple coverage. Other than Jacoby Jones, wide receivers rarely created separation.
So, why not run the football?
"There is some truth to what you are saying, but it wouldn't affect the call," Cameron said. "I'm going to have a ton of confidence in Joe. It has nothing to do with lack of confidence in anyone else. Will we do that all the time? No, but in critical situations you are going to see that a lot."
Rice rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He has no carries on third or fourth down this season.
"When we looked at the film, they were great calls," Rice said. "It was just a little off in execution. The time when [tight end] Dennis Pitta was open in the flat, if we complete that pass, we're not even having this discussion."
The Ravens made minimal use of Leach, a devastating lead blocker. The All-Pro played just 19 percent of the offensive snaps — 13, including eight runs.
"I really don't count 'em," Leach said. "If I play five plays or 50 plays, I want to be effective. You can't ever second-guess the play-calling."
Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merril Hoge thought the Ravens should have run the ball behind Leach.
"He's a power guy, one of the best in football," said Hoge, an ESPN analyst. "Leach and Rice should be well-rested. It's always a mistake to surrender and say, 'We can't run.' You got to try to the run the ball."
Emotional game for Pees
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to huddle with the New England Patriots, plotting defensive strategies as part of coach Bill Belichick's inner circle.
Now, Pees is preparing for quarterback Tom Brady as the Ravens take on his old team Sunday night.
Promoted from linebackers coach to run the defense in January, Pees acknowledged this game holds something extra for him.
"It’s always an emotional day," said Pees, the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. "I’m not going to lie about that and act like it’s just another game. It’s a big game for me. I think I mentioned it once before, it’s kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win.
"There’s a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached. So, yeah, sure it’s an emotional game. It always is.”
Pees left New England following a 33-14 loss to the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game where Rice gained 159 yards.