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Ravens' offense leads way by making running the ball a priority

Despite the lack of a big play in the running game early in the third quarter, the Ravens kept pounding and pounding away at the Denver Broncos' front seven.

And with each rushing attempt came more criticism until running back Ray Rice produced a 32-yard run late in the third period that eventually led to a 1-yard touchdown run just over a minute later.

Finally, old school football might have returned to Baltimore with new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

The Ravens haven't seen this type of patience or discipline on offense since Ted Marchibroda was coach in the 1990s.

Former coach Brian Billick always had a quick trigger finger, and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron never met a pass he didn't like. But in the last two games, the fourth straight called by Caldwell, the Ravens have had more than 400 total yards in each and averaged 31 points.

They've maintained balance but have had 71 rushing plays to 57 passing. That's what you want in the postseason when the weather gets cold.

"I thought we kept our poise really well as a football team," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of the team's win against Denver. "We made some adjustments throughout the course of the game. I thought our play-calling was tremendous on both sides. Jim was very patient.

"He was very patient with the run game, very patient with the rhythm controlled passing game and we took our shots and the shots were big, obviously."

The difference between Caldwell and his predecessors is that he seems to have a feel for the game. While he was getting criticized for runs that sometimes netted just a few yards, he kept the ball out of the hands of quarterback Peyton Manning, and more importantly wore down Denver's defense.

It was a game plan that two former great coaches, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells, often used in the second half of games.

The Broncos broke twice in the second half, the first being Rice's 32-yard run and the other coming on an 11-yard run off a draw in the first overtime to set up Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal in the second overtime.

In the four weeks under Caldwell, I've seen more draw plays with the Ravens than in the previous 14 seasons. But it's not just about what Caldwell called, but what he didn't call.

In the first half against Denver, the Ravens picked on cornerback Champ Bailey. The Ravens went vertical on him four times with receiver Torrey Smith, twice missing by inches, but also converting on touchdown passes of 59 and 32 yards.

Under Billick and Cameron, the Ravens would have kept bombing Denver in the second. But Caldwell took the ball out of the hands of quarterback Joe Flacco and put it in the hands of Rice.

Flacco still had opportunities and he threw well spreading the ball to receivers Anquan Boldin (6 catches, 71 yards), Smith (3 for 98 yards) and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, each with three catches.

There are other signs of Caldwell's impact. The Ravens attack the middle of the field more, and they aren't afraid to throw on first down. Flacco has been stepping up in the pocket more often and the Ravens use more rollout passes.

In the last two weeks, there has been a shift where the offense has taken control of this team and the defense follows. It is what was expected at the beginning of the season, especially since the Ravens had invested a lot of top draft picks on the offensive side of the ball in players like Flacco, Rice, offensive tackle Michael Oher and right guard Marshal Yanda.

Like Flacco, the newly created offensive line that now includes Bryant McKinnie as a starter has had a significant impact.

But when this season is over and the Ravens look back and want to hire a new offensive coordinator, they might want to stay with the current guy.

There is one, possibly two games remaining, but so far Caldwell has been a success, especially with his feel for the game.

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