Carroll County Times

Ravens aerial attack seeking consistency

OWINGS MILLS - Joe Flacco rolled right with seemingly nowhere to throw, progressively working further from the line of scrimmage before finally spotting Ray Rice breaking free up the right sideline.

Throwing off his back foot with two Steelers defenders barreling toward him, Flacco dropped in a perfectly lofted pass to Rice along the sideline for a 31-yard gain.

The broken play was one of very few bright spots for Flacco and the Ravens' passing game during last Sunday's win at Pittsburgh, a game that served as a continuation of the passing game's struggles away from the confines of M&T Bank Stadium.

The unit will look for better results today in San Diego.

"We have to go in there and play our game," Flacco said. "This is a talented football team, and we know that. They're going to be ready to play. They play well at home. We just have to be ready to go in there and play a tough game."

On paper, the matchup appears to be a favorable one for Flacco and the passing game.

In its six games against quarterbacks not named Jake Locker, Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden, San Diego has yielded an average of 289 yards per game through the air.

In those six games, the Chargers have surrendered 16 touchdown passes and tallied just three interceptions.

Peyton Manning threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Broncos to a 30-23 win against San Diego last week.

The Chargers have given up multiple touchdown passes in six of their last eight games, including three scoring passes or more four times during that span.

"They've got some good athletes and it'll be a good challenge for us," Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones said, "but we always feel like there's opportunities there when you have Joe [Flacco] at quarterback. We've just got to [execute] and make plays."

But for as well as Flacco and the passing game have executed at home, they've sputtered on the road.

At home, Flacco is throwing for an average of 322 yards per game. He's completing 66.5 percent of his passes and has 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions in Baltimore's five home games.

In the Ravens' five road games, however, Flacco has struggled. He's throwing for just 177 yards per game, completing only 54 percent of his pass attempts and has four interceptions with just three scoring passes.

He's been limited to 187 yards or less in each of Baltimore's last four road games, including just 164 yards without a touchdown or an interception in last Sunday's win against the Steelers.

"We've seen good and bad from Flacco," said former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams, who now serves as a Ravens analyst on both TV and radio. "Of course consistency is what you want, and I understand the guy is going to have bad days at the office, but within his maturation there are some qualities that I believe have not materialized.

"He's had success, but I just don't see him taking control of the offense like I want to see. I don't see him making a lot of reads and looking at his second and third options."

But the passing game's inconsistency is about more than just Flacco.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta have both struggled at times following hot starts to the season while Baltimore's offensive line had issues in pass protection during the first half of the year.

The passing game has excelled at times as well, however.

Flacco has thrown for 341 yards or more three times this season, although each of those three games were at home, and ranks second in the NFL with 26 completions of 25 yards or more.

He'll look for similar success against a Chargers pass defense that has had issues this season but that Smith warned "still has talent."

San Diego safety Eric Weddle has 10 interceptions since the beginning of the 2011 season, including one that he returned 23 yards for a touchdown during the Chargers' loss to the Broncos last week.

Flacco threw for 226 yards amid the Ravens' 34-14 loss at San Diego last season, although 55 of the yards came on a late scoring drive that started with Baltimore trailing by 27 points with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Flacco tossed an early touchdown, and another late to cap the fourth quarter scoring drive, but was also intercepted on the Ravens' first two possessions of the second half.

"Even though they haven't played that well at times, but they still have talent and they played pretty well against us last year," Smith said. "They have some playmakers, some proven guys. It'll be a challenge for us. We just have to go out and play our game."