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Ravens searching for the right mix of run, pass in offensive balance

For play callers like the Ravens' Gary Kubiak, achieving offensive balance is an elusive pursuit, a challenging and often frustrating endeavor that prompts sleepless nights and almost constant second-guessing.

When Kubiak spoke to reporters Thursday, the Ravens' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts four days earlier was still fresh on his mind, and the questions about why his offense ran the ball just 15 times in the game seemed as pertinent as ever.

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"Last weekend, it's the least amount of plays we've run in a game, the least amount of time we've been on the field. It was self-inflicted," said Kubiak, the first-year Ravens offensive coordinator. "We were poor on third down, and if you are poor on third down in this league, you're not going to get snaps, you're not going to stay on the field. Yeah, I'm disappointed in last week. Everything we did wasn't good enough, but we'd like to be a balanced offense. That's not going to change."

Five games into the season, the Ravens, who face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, already have discovered a winning formula. Now it's just a matter of sticking to it.

In their three victories this season, the Ravens had 99 runs and 91 passes overall. In their two losses, they've run the ball 35 times while quarterback Joe Flacco has had 100 passing attempts.

"We're going to be a running team. There's no question about it. We can run the football, but we're also going to be a passing team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to pass the football really well, too. And we're going to try to win football games. That's what we're going to do.

"It is way too easy to sit there and go, 'Oh, they have to run the ball more. They only ran the ball a certain amount of times.' It's like, 'Can you take one more page and one more layer and turn it over and figure out what's going on?' "

For Harbaugh's entire tenure as head coach of the Ravens, the team's run-pass ratio has been a hot-button issue, one he clearly has grown tired of discussing. But his point was simple: Each game presents its own set of challenges and circumstances, and a team often has to stray from the game plan to respond.

Some Sundays, the Ravens will be able to grind out victories on the ground. Other days, they may fall behind and need their passing game to strike quickly and get them back in the game.

"You want to see more runs? We have to convert more third downs and get more plays," Harbaugh said. "It's just that simple, and it's not too hard to figure out, really. We have to get good at what we do."

In their two losses, the Ravens trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 15-0 at halftime and the Colts 13-3 early in the third quarter. The deficits made it more difficult to stick to the run and a more balanced approach.

"There are certain things that can always be out of whack," Kubiak said. "The best thing for our football team and for us is to be balanced and be unpredictable and not have to sit back there and throw it too much. If we're doing that, we're probably in a bad situation. We're always looking for balance. I have to do a better job than I did last week with that."

Run-first always the goal

Kubiak came to Baltimore with a well-earned reputation as a run-first play caller, and his presence has invigorated a running game that set a franchise low in yards last season. The Ravens rank 12th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (125.6) after finishing 30th last year (83.0). They also are getting 4.7 yards per carry, an average eclipsed by just seven other teams.

But through the early part of the season, the Ravens, more than most teams, still are relying largely on their quarterback's arm. They are throwing on 58.8 percent of their offensive plays. Just 12 teams have a higher percentage of passing attempts. On average, Flacco is passing the ball 11 more times per game than he's handing it off.

"You like to look at those things, but you always have to look at why," Flacco said. "Why were there more passes? Why were there more runs? Why was it even? And yes, playing a full 60 minutes to your best ability always comes into why those things are like that."

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Flacco said he's excited by the balance the Ravens offense has shown, even if the team's run-pass ratio doesn't necessarily back him up. Statistically, all three of the Ravens' AFC North foes are more balanced offensively.

The Bengals are averaging 30 carries per game and 29.3 throws. The Cleveland Browns average 31.8 runs per game, compared with 33.3 passing attempts. Then there's the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, throws the ball just over 27 times per game and hands it off nearly 36 times.

"A lot of the times, when you're winning football games, you might have throws up here, runs down here, and all of a sudden, the fourth quarter comes around, and because you're up by 14 points, you end up with five more runs a game than you do passes," Flacco said. "And that's what I'd really like to see, and I think when we've played well, that's what we've had."

During their Super Bowl season in 2012, the Ravens ran the ball just over 44 percent of the time. Last season, that number dipped to just below 41 percent as the offense perpetually struggled to gain traction on the ground.

What's a good ratio?

Is there an ideal run-pass ratio? Several Ravens say no, and recent history would support them. The 2011 Super Bowl champion Giants passed the ball more than 60 percent of the time. The Seattle Seahawks won a championship last season by running the ball on nearly 55 percent of their plays.

"I think balance is, basically, you can go to any phase in your offense, and it's going to be successful, whether that's the run game or the passing game," Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "It doesn't always have to be 50-50. I think balance is when you're effective in all phases. It's not about numbers."

The Bengals, Giants and Dallas Cowboys are currently the teams closest to having a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but football pundits are quick to point out that is not necessarily the measuring stick for balance, either.

"You say balance — no one is 50-50 anymore in this league," former Ravens coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said earlier this season. "If you're 60 percent pass, 40 percent run, you are balanced."

Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon looks at it more in terms of yards.

"I think if you're aiming to be balanced, you probably want to have 125 yards rushing and 275 yards passing or so," Glennon said. "That would probably be a coordinator's dream right there."

Kubiak's dream would be for the Ravens to come out Sunday, establish the run, convert on third downs and have Flacco make some big plays downfield. That would be his idea of offensive balance.

"I'm all for it," a grinning Kubiak said Thursday. "I can tell you that."

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