Ravens coach John Harbaugh sees offense's identity, foundation when others might not

The Ravens have 13 days before their next game. Through the course of an NFL regular season, where every day is planned out to the exact minute, the bye week might as well be an eternity.

But is it enough time for the Ravens to fix, or at the very least, improve their broken offense?

Ravens coach John Harbaugh certainly thinks so. A day after the Ravens were held without a touchdown for the first three-plus quarters in a critical 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Harbaugh again expressed optimism that the offense is heading in the right direction and a belief that the team has the right offensive coaches and players in place to turn things around.

“I see an identity to this offense. I understand the identity, I understand where we're going as an offense. I have a good feel for what we're trying to accomplish,” Harbaugh said. “I can look at it and I can see where we're going to build, what we can build on, what the foundation is. I'm excited about that. There's no doubt in my mind that we can be a very successful offense throughout the rest of the season. We’ve shown enough flashes of it based on the tape, based on the way I see guys playing, and we’ve had and haven’t had out there. I feel like we’re going to be able to do that.”

Harbaugh’s response came after he was asked why he believes much-maligned offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is still the right man to lead the Ravens offense. Harbaugh has made in-season offensive coordinator changes before, firing Cam Cameron after a Week 14 loss to the Washington Redskins in 2012 and cutting ties with Marc Trestman after Week 5 last year.

However, those situations were different. When the team replaced Cameron by promoting quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, Harbaugh felt that he had a Super Bowl-caliber team and that the offense had plateaued and needed a spark. He was proven right, as a rejuvenated Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a championship. When Harbaugh replaced Trestman with Mornhinweg last year, he just didn’t think things were working out and felt a change was needed.

“It was more than that in those instances. Those kinds of decisions are always fairly complex. It cuts to the heart of what you're trying to do. Those are tough choices to make,” Harbaugh said. “I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff, I have a lot of confidence in the players. I can see the way forward.”

The Ravens are 4-5 and they’ve lost five of their past seven games as they go into the bye week before playing on the road against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 19. The Ravens believe they remain in the mix for a postseason spot, but they’ve left themselves with little margin for error over their final seven games.

The defense and special teams have had problems at times, but nobody at the Under Armour Performance Center is likely to dispute that it’s the Flacco-led offense that is holding the Ravens back. After Sunday’s games, the Ravens rank 30th in the NFL in yards per game (286.6), 31st in passing yards per game (165.7) and 19th in points per game (21.1).

Flacco is tied for third in the league with 10 interceptions and he ranks 31st in quarterback rating (72.7). The only two current starting quarterbacks with a worse rating are rookies C.J. Beathard of the San Francisco 49ers and DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns. A deflated Flacco acknowledged the obvious after Sunday’s game.

“We need to do things obviously a little bit better,” he said after a game in which he completed 34 of 52 attempts for 261 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “You can't play too much worse than we’ve been playing and we’ve obviously been in a lot of football games.”

Wide receiver Mike Wallace said the Ravens have too much talent on the offensive side to continually struggle to move the ball. Right tackle Austin Howard didn’t have an explanation for the struggles, either.

"There is a lot of frustration. What's wrong with the offense? Who knows?” Howard said. “We have to come back and figure it out. Obviously, there is a disconnect somewhere. Guys are working their tails off day and night, including the coaches, to put in good game plans and have good plays called. We've just got to go out and execute."

At the very least, the Ravens should get healthier after the bye. Running back Danny Woodhead, a potentially key figure in the passing game, is expected to return from a hamstring injury in time for the game against the Packers. Running back Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and tight end Nick Boyle also should be back.

The week off also should help Flacco, who has looked beaten and battered in recent weeks as the team’s offensive struggles have intensified. But the Ravens have far more problems offensively than bruised and battered bodies and psyches.

They struggle to convert on third down, ranking 27th with a 34.1 percent conversion rate. They score touchdowns in the red zone only 52 percent of the time. Their struggles to maintain drives is directly related to their inability to consistently make big plays down the field, forcing them to grind for every first down.

According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco was 0-for-4 on passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air against the Titans, continuing a season-long trend.

“We’ve got to get more precise in those areas, and it’s every part of our offense in different ways, and the deep passing game is a part of that — the spacing of the routes, the timing of the routes, making the play on the ball,” Harbaugh said. “If you look at some of the downfield passes that have been intercepted, they’ve mostly been contested balls. So you’ve got to go up and come down with that ball or the ball comes down with you so that the ball doesn’t get tipped up in the air. That’s happened three times to us on throws downfield, if I’m right about that. All three of those could have and should have been completed, and that’s really the difference. When you make those plays downfield, good things happen.”

Harbaugh said the Ravens, who will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before getting some time off for the bye week, will spend part of the week working on being more precise in the passing game, and that includes everything from refining protection schemes, fakes and routes.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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