The Ravens have earned the scrutiny because of the number of times in recent years in which they've totally abandoned the running game. There have been plenty of games in which their penchant for becoming one dimensional on offense has been indefensible.
Sunday was not one of them.
There has been a lot said about how the Ravens had just two designed runs in the second half of their 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys after they had nice success on the ground in the first half, rushing 13 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. If you just glance at the stat sheet or were just a casual observer of the game, that seems like an egregious mistake.
However, that's not the case if you actually dissect the team's four possessions – yes, only four – after halftime.
> 15:00 left in third quarter (Game tied at 10; Ravens have ball at own 25): On the first play from scrimmage, Joe Flacco hits Steve Smith Sr. for a 22-yard reception, the 1,000th of Smith's career. On the next play, Terrance West is stopped for no gain on first down. Flacco throws incompletions on second and third down and the Ravens punt.
Comment: You could make a case that the Ravens could have run on second-and-10 from around midfield, but it's hard to argue with passing on second- and third-and-long.
>> 7:31 of third quarter (Cowboys lead 17-10; Ravens get ball at own 25): After the Ravens get a first down on a Flacco scramble, rookie Kenneth Dixon takes a handoff for 9 yards on first down. However, Jeremy Zuttah is called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the run, creating and a second-and-16 from the Ravens' 30. Flacco throws two completions to Mike Wallace, but Ravens don't pick up a first down, and they punt.
Comment: You don't run the ball on second-and-16 when trailing by a touchdown or on third-and-5. There is nothing to see here.
>>>11:30 of fourth quarter (Cowboys lead 24-10; Ravens get ball at own 25): Trailing by two touchdowns and with Dallas controlling possession, Flacco drops back to pass on all eight plays of a three-plus-minute scoring drive that ends with Smith catching a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Comment: Maybe you mix in a run here, but you're down by two touchdowns several minutes into the fourth quarter and you know you might see the ball only once more. You have to score as quickly as possible and that means throwing the ball.
>>>>1:50 of fourth quarter (Cowboys lead 27-17; Ravens get ball at own 25): Trying to make it a one score game and not having any timeouts, Flacco drops back on six consecutive plays before time runs out.
Comment: You don't run the ball down two scores with less than two minutes remaining.
Maybe there were one or two opportunities in the second half to run the ball, but it's hard to be critical with how pass happy the offense became in the second half. You're just not going to run the ball on second- and third-and-long when you're trailing in the game and you're not seeing the ball for stretches of 8-10 minutes.
It's an easy criticism to make because the Ravens have been guilty of abandoning the run far too many times in the past. But they had other more legitimate issues versus the Cowboys.
In other matters...
A decision on Boyle: The Ravens will have a decision to make with tight end Nick Boyle, who will return to practice this week and is eligible to play Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals after serving a 10-game suspension.
The Ravens can hold off a week on Boyle and give him two full weeks of practice, which he might need, given that the second-year player hasn't practiced or played since the first week of September. Or, badly in need of a third tight end who can block, the Ravens could push the envelope a bit and put Boyle on the active roster Saturday.
That decision will probably come down to what kind of shape Boyle is in and how quickly he grasps the offensive changes that have been made over the past 10 weeks.
Campanaro's return: This also could be the week for practice squad wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill) to get moved to the active roster. Campanaro is healthy, and he's looked good in practice, by all accounts. The Ravens didn't bring back Campanaro – and he didn't decline to work out for other teams to sign with the Ravens – so he'd spend the rest of the year on the practice squad.
With his ability to return punts and work in the slot, Campanaro could help. His potential promotion doesn't necessarily mean the Ravens will part ways with Devin Hester Sr., who continues to struggle on punt returns. That's how it might turn out, but it's also possible the Ravens stick with Hester on kick returns – he's second in the league with an average of 26.6 yards per return – and Campanaro on punts. On the surface, keeping Hester just to return kickoffs doesn't look like a good use of roster space, but the colder it gets and the harder it is to kick the ball through the end zone, the more returns there figures to be.
The Ravens could create one roster spot by moving running back Lorenzo Taliaferro to injured reserve. He's dealing with a hamstring injury and it's tough to carry four running backs anyway.
Contract watching: You can bet Ravens starting right tackle and pending free agent Rick Wagner took note of the reported five-year, $32 million extension that Atlanta Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder signed Monday. Wagner, who has played much better of late, will probably be looking at a similar deal this offseason. The bet here is the Ravens move Alex Lewis to right tackle next season, let Wagner walk and gain a compensatory pick in the process.
Key injuries to opponents: I've heard from Ravens' fans lamenting the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Indianapolis Colts on Thanksgiving and likely not have to face star Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who is in the concussion protocol. Let's not forget that the Ravens will get the Bengals without star wide receiver A.J. Green. In eight career games against the Ravens, Green has 41 catches for 726 yards and six touchdowns. Those six touchdowns have come in the past five matchups. Green has at least 130 receiving yards in three of his past five games against Baltimore.
Torrey Smith finally misses a game: In former Ravens' news, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith was sidelined for his team's loss to the New England Patriots Sunday because of a shoulder injury. That's significant because Smith hadn't missed a game in his first five-plus seasons. Smith has gotten plenty of criticism over the years, but you have to applaud his toughness and durability. He's played through a slew of nagging injuries.
As for former Ravens running back Justin Forsett, he was a healthy scratch by the Detroit Lions Sunday and he's now gone three consecutive games without a carry.