Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about players injuries and their preparation for the Miami Dolphins. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Neither Ravens coach John Harbaugh nor veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace were being curt or dismissive when they were asked this week about what they wanted to see from the offense in the second preseason game Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins.
"I am looking for points," Harbaugh said.
"A little bit more than last week" was Wallace's answer.
The Ravens offense didn't set the bar very high in last week's preseason-opening 23-3 victory over the Washington Redskins. Ryan Mallett, the starter with Joe Flacco sidelined, completed 9-of-18 passes and averaged just over six yards per completion. The starters went three-and-out on their first two drives despite starting on their own 38 and 44-yard lines, and they would've been held scoreless had the Redskins not prolonged their opponent's third drive by committing a penalty on Justin Tucker's errant field-goal attempt.
The lackluster performance was predictable given the offense's mistake-prone and underwhelming play in camp practices, and the number of key players who were on the sideline. Just four projected offensive starters faced the Redskins. That excuse, though, won't be valid this week as Harbaugh is expected to play most, if not all, of his healthy starters against the Dolphins.
Flacco, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and left tackle Ronnie Stanley won't play, but running back Danny Woodhead, wide receivers Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, tight end Benjamin Watson and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Austin Howard are in line to get their first preseason action.
While the game marks quarterback Jay Cutler's debut with the Dolphins, who acted quickly to bring in the previously retired veteran following Ryan Tannehill's knee injury, the Ravens are interested in seeing where they're at offensively with some of their key pieces back. The early looks haven't been all that encouraging.
"We need to get better," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "We need to solidify the offensive line. That is not going to happen yet this week, but it is an opportunity for young guys to go in there and play well. We want to be as precise as we can be with our passing game, and we want our backs to run hard. We want to protect the football. We want to play good solid football, and then we can build from there."
The Ravens' regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals is now just over three weeks away. Harbaugh typically doesn't play starters and even some top reserves in the fourth and final preseason game, so the Ravens' offense essentially has Thursday's game and the Aug.26 home matchup against the Buffalo Bills to start gathering some momentum that has been elusive this summer.
Flacco (back) won't play this preseason and Perriman (hamstring) may not as well. The offensive line could settle in a bit over the next two weeks. Otherwise, the Ravens are going to have to make do with what they currently have.
"It's going to always impact you when you're working with different guys, but as a player, you can't let that affect you. You have to go out and get better every day," Wallace said. "You have to go out from a personal standpoint every day and be like, 'My guy is not here so I'm going to put it all on me to get better and make some more plays.' It's definitely challenging any time you're not out with the same group of guys, but at the same time, you can't stop the show."
The onus to get the offense going will fall largely on Mallett's shoulders. The veteran backup has had an interesting training camp, listening to the Ravens publicly weigh signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick along with criticism about his play. He's shown mild improvement as camp has gone on, but his performance in the preseason opener didn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence.
Harbaugh defended Mallett following the game, saying the quarterback played "winning football." Former Ravens coach Brian Billick, now a color commentator on the team's preseason broadcasts, took to his Twitter account this week to say it's unfair to properly evaluate Mallett, given the ever-changing offensive line and the absence of the team's top skill players.
"Far from great but I don't see reason to sound the alarm either," Billick wrote of Mallett's performance against the Redskins.
While acknowledging that everything traditionally falls on the quarterback and Mallett has some stuff to clean up, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg pointed out that the de-facto starter was not responsible for all of the team's offensive issues.
"He has proven he could play at that high level. Now, let's play at that high level consistently," Mornhinweg said. "It looks like we are going to have some more players playing, so that will be a good thing for him. He did some really good things in the ball game, and then some other things, we missed just a little bit, and it was several people's problem there. Hopefully, we have that straightened out."
Overall, Mornhinweg was pleased that the offense had no pre-snap penalties against the Redskins and he said the communication was generally good. Behind a patchwork offensive line, the ground game didn't generate too many explosive plays beyond an 18-yard run by Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson) that set up his own 2-yard touchdown, but a commitment to running downhill was obvious.
That will continue to be a focus, even as the offensive line gets juggled on a nearly daily basis. In the passing game, the Ravens want to create much-bigger plays down the field. Mallett took a few shots last week, but twice failed to connect with Michael Campanaro (River Hill).
"I think each week in training camp, you want to see progression, just gearing up for Week One," Campanaro said. "I definitely think we'll get some offensive linemen out there that didn't play last week. I know some receivers will be out there playing. We want to go out and make some plays and put some points on the board."
Wallace was reminded Monday that training camp was already almost three weeks old. His first thought was about how quickly the first couple of weeks had gone. Then, he turned his attention to the small window that remained for the Ravens' offense to start finding its rhythm.
"Let's just try and get the flow going. I don't care if it's preseason, practice, whatever it is. You don't want to be flat," Wallace said. "You want to go out there, move the ball and get some good work in, so you feel good about your offense. That's the biggest thing, just moving the ball this week.
"We had some good plays last week, but I feel like we could have made more. Let's see some consistency in drives. We don't want to go three-and-out. We don't want to get just one first down. We need to put some good drives together, move the ball down the field and make some big plays."