Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens 19-14 win over to the Cincinnati Bengals. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Soon after the Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco were looking for answers to explain why the offense stalled again.
One answer could be found on the official game summary: In 66 offensive plays for the Ravens, receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace touched the ball only eight times.
No wonder the Ravens had to rely on four field goals from Justin Tucker. And that explains why Smith was out of the locker room after the game as fast as he gets to and from the line of scrimmage in a two-minute offense.
It's hard to explain how this happened.
"It just felt like we got a little bit conservative," Flacco said of the erratic offense. "We lost our tempo a little bit."
They lost Wallace and Smith, too. They might not be as impactful as stud receivers such as Dez Bryant or A.J. Green, but they are the top playmakers on this team. The general rule from recreation leagues to the NFL is that your top scoring threats have to touch the ball.
Smith had four catches for 20 yards and Wallace had three for 57. Each was targeted just four times (Wallace also had a run for minus-1 yard).
In comparison, tight end Dennis Pitta and fullback Kyle Juszczyk combined for six receptions on 10 targets for 52 yards. It was apparently "check-down Sunday" for Flacco, who threw to running backs Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West a combined eight times for 47 yards.
If the Ravens wanted to know why Wallace and Smith looked uninterested Sunday, it's because either Flacco or the coaching staff took them out of the offense.
It's understandable why the Ravens had a conservative game plan going in, because the Bengals were without their star receiver (Green), top reserve running back Giovani Bernard and starting right offensive tackle.
Plus, the Bengals and their two-deep coverage have caused Flacco problems the last couple of years, so the coaching staff wanted to make Flacco as comfortable as possible, especially with him struggling this season.
But the Ravens still could have done more to incorporate both Wallace and Smith. The Ravens could have played it safe and still used them on hitches, slants and quick screens. They could have used them in simple running plays, such as jet sweeps or end arounds.
Smith can break long runs after the catch, and Wallace is great to watch when he catches a short pass in stride and outruns everyone around the corner. But we saw little of that Sunday. It was dump off, dump off and dump off some more.
In the present-day NFL, few teams can go on several long drives per game, so big plays area necessity. Juszczyk and Pitta aren't going to make those types of plays, but Smith and Wallace can.
Wallace averages 15.5 yards a catch; Pitta averages 8.4. Smith has 48 catches for 536 yards and three touchdowns; Juszczyk has 28 for 188 yards and no touchdowns. There is no element of surprise because Flacco usually passes to Juszczyk when he enters a game.
Why weren't the Ravens creative enough to get Wallace and Smith the ball?
Maybe Flacco is to blame. He doesn't often audible, and the game plan appears to be less complex every week. Despite ample time Sunday on most passing plays, Flacco either threw to his first read or to his check-down receiver.
Receivers who are second and third options will get tired of running routes when Flacco fails to go through his progression and just eyes up two targets. I bet that's what irked both Smith and Wallace on Sunday.
Smith didn't play well in the game and his penalties hurt the team. His arguments with opposing players seemed to take him out of his game.
But Smith is also a hard-nosed competitor. He is a potential Hall of Famer with a resume that has earned him the right to touch the ball. Wallace is one of the faster receivers in the NFL and he can turn a little into a lot.
On Sunday, the Ravens forgot them both. Maybe it was an aberration.
This week against Miami, let's see if they remember.