Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg discusses the upcoming game against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Jeff Zrebiec, Baltimore Sun video)
Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg uttered nearly 1,000 words in his near 10-minute news conference Thursday, and it was his first sentence that probably summed up things best.
"Man alive, we've got some work to do," Mornhinweg said upon arriving to the microphone.
With three games to go, starting with Sunday's home regular-season finale against the reeling Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens' offense remains without an identity or any definitive strength. Stuck in a season-long funk, the Ravens can't consistently make plays down the field and they struggle to adjust when opposing defenses take certain things away.
Maybe the offense's biggest question of all is one you've probably heard before around these parts: Where is the running game?
Marc Trestman was fired as the Ravens' offensive coordinator after a loss in Week 5 to the Washington Redskins. His failure to commit to the running game was perceived to be a major reason for his dismissal. However, in eight games with Mornhinweg as the offensive coordinator and play-caller, the Ravens are actually running the ball even less and with certainly less efficiency.
Under Mornhinweg, the Ravens are running the ball nearly two fewer times per game and averaging 21.1 fewer rushing yards per contest. Their lack of a running game was on full display in Monday's 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots, as the Ravens had just 14 rushing attempts for the game and four carries for seven yards in the first half.
"I came out of the game and we had a plan early, and then, geez, it went the other way, and we're playing catch up," Mornhinweg said. "That's my responsibility — unable to utilize the running game as much as I thought we would going into that game. That's my responsibility. Certainly, knowing the outcome, I would have done that a little differently."
Mornhinweg obviously didn't expand on what the game plan was, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass on the first five plays and 14 of the first 16, continuing a trend from the previous week's 38-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins. In that game, the Ravens ran the ball just seven times in the first half and threw it 34 times. For the game, their run/pass distribution was 50/20, and three of those 20 runs were kneel-downs from backup quarterback Ryan Mallett.
In the 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 20, the Ravens' rushing tandem of Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) and rookie Kenneth Dixon gained 73 yards on 12 first-half carries, but the Ravens ran the ball just twice in the second half.
"There is no doubt we are going to have to run the ball, especially if teams are going to go out and play two high [safeties] against us like the Patriots did," Flacco said. "We have to be able to hand the ball off and get yardage out of it and really make do. Because then it is going to get the play-action game going a little bit more and make it that much better."
Wanting to take away the speed of receivers like Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, and knowing Flacco's fondness for the deep ball, teams have been showing the Ravens two-deep-safety looks for much of the season. The Patriots dropped seven or eight guys into coverage, beat up tight end Dennis Pitta at the line of scrimmage and gave Flacco only underneath stuff. The Ravens, who expected the Patriots to play more man coverage, struggled to adjust.
The NFL is a copycat league, and the Eagles surely noticed how much the Patriots' zone flummoxed Flacco and the Ravens. The Ravens will likely see similar defensive game plans going forward and Flacco acknowledged that one way to succeed will be to run the ball. That forces opposing teams to bring one of their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
"I think balance helps with keeping defenses guessing," Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah said. "It makes it especially hard on D-linemen when they're trying to get their pass rushers into the game. But I think everybody benefits from balance. Obviously, you can't argue with the results against Miami, and then, obviously, we fell behind a little bit in New England. So that makes sense there, too. But I think everybody strives for balance."
Mornhinweg effectively talked around questions about whether the Ravens need to be more balanced, and whether they are too reliant on the pass setting up the run.
"Every game is so different and the plan going in will be so different every game," he said. "I believe both the run and the pass are very, very important to our football team."
Like Trestman, Mornhinweg has a reputation as a pass-first offensive coordinator. While with the New York Jets in 2013 and 2014, New York tabloids referred to him as "Air Marty." He's certainly lived up to that label in his brief tenure as the Ravens' play caller.
The Ravens have run the ball 20 times or fewer in four of Mornhinweg's eight games at offensive coordinator. For the season, their 301 rushing attempts are the fourth fewest in the NFL. They rank 28th in rushing yards per game (86.0), 27th in yards per carry (3.7) and 25th in rushing scores (seven).
While the Ravens have thrown the ball a league-leading 554 times, they are on pace to run the ball 370 times, which would qualify as the fewest rushing attempts in a season in franchise history. The previous low was 383, set in 2015.
"Whatever the game plan is, we have to roll with it, stick with it and execute whatever the play is that's called," said West, who leads the team with 652 rushing yards but had only two carries against the Patriots. "When my number is called, I'm going to make a play."
Perhaps the Ravens will turn to their ground game over the final three weeks, when the weather continue to gets colder and the field conditions grow even worse. Dixon and West are seemingly fresh at this stage of the season.
However, things certainly don't appear to be trending in that direction.
"The weather plays a factor, but every game is its own individual game," Mornhinweg said. "After the season, I like to be a certain way, but within a whole season, every game is going to be individual specific that way, as far as how much you throw and how much you run."
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was fired partly because he abandoned the run game too soon and too often. Under his replacement, Marty Mornhinweg, the Ravens are running the ball even less, and with less effectiveness, too.
Games; Rushes per game; Rushing yds per game; Yds per carry; Rushing TDs;