Preston: Ravens need to find a more balanced offense against Titans

In one brief statement, Joe Flacco went against all these new philosophies about what it takes to have a successful offense and win in the NFL these days.

“Sometimes you don’t realize until you look up at the end that you’ve thrown the ball that many times,” the Ravens quarterback said. “But in this day and age, I mean, 40 pass attempts is just normal.

“Those days when you’re throwing the ball 25 to 30 times, they’re lovely days, because usually you completed a good amount of them and you’re winning the football game.”

Amen.

That’s what the Ravens need to work on this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. They don’t need to become a run-oriented offense, just more balanced with the run so Flacco isn’t throwing the ball 56 times a week, as he did last Sunday in the loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Throughout his 11 years in Baltimore, the Ravens are 3-12 when Flacco has thrown more than 50 times in a game. Against the Titans, the Ravens face the No. 26-ranked run defense, allowing 123.2 yards per game.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has spent the week defending the team’s wide-open approach, possibly a way of deflecting criticism of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

But he knows this team will eventually have to be able to run the ball, either because of cold or rainy weather or to secure a win in the fourth quarter.

Eventually, all the fingers will be pointed at Harbaugh because he is the head coach. It really comes down to commitment.

I’m not just talking about game-to-game either, but year-to-year. The Ravens showed a lack of commitment last week when running back Alex Collins ran the ball six times for 42 yards in the first half but only six times for 17 in the second in a 12-9 loss.

That was just abandonment and made the Ravens’ offensive strategy clearer. The approach might be dictated out of fear because they know fans and owner Steve Bisciotti want an exciting and productive offense in 2018.

But let’s not get crazy. The Ravens have attempted 232 passes this season compared with 139 runs, and Collins and backup Buck Allen have combined for only 91 carries.

No running back can get into a rhythm averaging 11 carries a game. Heck, backups want at least four or five attempts in the first half.

If the Ravens want a stronger running game, then commit to more runs. If they want to keep Flacco healthy for the entire season, they might want to pound the ball more instead of having him exposed so much while dropping back to pass.

Part of the problem is that Harbaugh doesn’t like Collins’ style. The Ravens prefer more of a north and south, downhill-type runner such as Allen or rookie De’Lance Turner.

Collins has the juke and cutback style. He is always twisting and turning. He might fumble, but no one can question the second or third efforts he gives on each carry.

Unfortunately, his style and Allen’s have made the Ravens predictable. When Collins is in the game, the Ravens use a lot of play-action fakes or outside or inside zone runs on first and second downs.

When Allen is in the game, it’s usually power plays or pass plays with five- or six-man protections.

I assume Dean Pees, the Ravens’ former defensive coordinator now in the same capacity with Tennessee, is loving life this week.

One of the obvious weaknesses in the Ravens’ running game is the interior of the offensive line. Most teams in the NFL no longer invest a lot of money or get quality depth on this group.

The Ravens are no exception. Over the years, they have developed linemen such as guard Kelechi Osemele and tackles Michael Oher and Rick Wagner, only to allow them to sign bigger contracts elsewhere.

The latest was center Ryan Jensen, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason. Jensen wasn’t a great player, but he was tough, solid and dependable.

His Ravens replacement is second-year player Matt Skura, who is small and stiff, but will get better with another year of experience. Left guard Alex Lewis also needs to get better knee bend while struggling.

Right guard Marshal Yanda, after 12 years in the league, might have lost a step, and right tackle James Hurst is “just another guy.”

Timing, experience and rhythm are the keys for any offensive line, and this group is lacking in most of those areas.

In a sense, you can understand the Ravens relying more on the pass so far this season. You could see it coming after the first game against Buffalo, when Flacco threw 34 times against the Bills and then 55 times the following week in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

My mind kept shooting back to the 2013 and 2016 seasons when Flacco came out throwing. In 2013, Flacco completed 362 of 614 passes for 3,912 yards, 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

Three years later, he completed 436 of 672 passes for 4,317 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Both times, the Ravens finished 8-8.

That’s not good enough.

One of Flacco’s best seasons came in 2014 under coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense when he completed 344 of 554 passes for 3,986 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Ravens also ran the ball 448 times for 2,019 yards. They finished 10-6, which was also the last time they’ve been to the playoffs in the past five years.

That’s what balance brings. That’s what the Ravens need. So far, only Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown more passes than Flacco (245 to 227) this season.

That has to change.

It can this week against the Titans. The Ravens need to improve on their 94.4 rushing yards per game. If they can’t do it Sunday, then when?

“Just execution. That sounds simple, but execution at a high level, all 11 guys doing their job — that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes in the passing game; that’s what it takes in the run game as well. There’s not a special recipe or a way to get it done,” Yanda said. “We just have guys getting on their guys and executing the play to the best of their ability.

“Those runs are going to come. We feel like nobody’s panicking. We have the guys that can do it and the scheme that can do it where everyone is going to put their head down and keep going.”

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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