Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco felt that he had the exact look he wanted early in the second quarter Sunday. Wide receiver Mike Wallace was being defended on the outside by Cleveland Browns veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. Browns safety Jabrill Peppers was over the top, but Flacco expected him to move in closer and abandon the deep side of the field.
By the time Flacco let the ball go — the only real deep shot he’s taken this season — it had become clear that it wasn’t going to work out as planned. Wallace cut off the route to the outside. McCourty faded back under the overthrown ball and Peppers sprinted over to help. By the time Wallace saw the ball and adjusted, it was too late.
The interception was one of Flacco’s few mistakes in the Ravens’ 24-10 victory Sunday and emblematic of the team’s inability so far to get Wallace and Breshad Perriman involved.
“They’re part of this team and they’re great players. I think there’s always a focus to get as many people involved as possible. When you go out there on Sunday, you run your game plan and your game plan is to get everybody involved. That’s when you’re operating at your best,” Flacco said before Wednesday’s practice. “But sometimes, reality is a little bit different. You go out there and certain things happen throughout the course of the game. Obviously, it hasn’t panned out for those guys necessarily for the first two games, but it’s still early. You guys know what those guys are capable of, especially Mike.”
Wallace had seven catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns through two games last season, but at the same point this year, he has two catches for 15 yards and he’s been targeted just four times. Perriman has been targeted by Flacco eight times this season, yet he has just one catch for five yards.
Flacco has relied on the running backs and tight ends in the passing game and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has made an immediate impact in the Ravens’ 2-0 start. However, there seemed to be an understanding Wednesday as the team continued preparations for Sunday’s matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) at Wembley Stadium in London that Wallace and Perriman need to be far more involved for the offense to hit its stride.
“Those are two playmakers. We’ve got some real playmakers at wide receiver. Those guys being involved and making plays is really important for us,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Flacco said that he’s spoken to Wallace, but denied to characterize it as the wide receiver “being in his ear,” because the team’s long-time quarterback believes that carries a negative connotation. He said that he and Wallace, who are locker mates, have developed a trust and the wide receiver understands that Flacco wants to get him the ball.
Make no mistake, though, that Wallace badly wants more opportunities to make plays after he resurrected his career last year with a 72-catch, 1,017-yard season. As reporters crowded around Wallace on Wednesday, several teammates chided him playfully and reminded the emotional wide receiver to not take the bait.
“I’m not going to do it. Almost. But I’m not going to do it,” Wallace joked. “Of course, you play wide receiver. You’re always tempted to throw your helmet if you don’t get the ball, but there’s a certain way to go about things. I talked to my coach. We’ll get it done. We’ll make it happen. I definitely feel like I’ll get the ball going forward, but we’re not going to make it like it’s hard to get me the ball. I’m nice. I can get open. We just got to get the right situation. It’s going to happen. When it happens, it’s going to be big. It might be this week.”
Asked if he was frustrated with only getting three balls thrown to him in two weeks after he averaged over seven targets per game last year, Wallace said, “Of course. I play wide receiver. I don’t play to block. But at the same time, when you’re winning, it makes it all good. I’m going to find ways to make plays. This is going to happen. It’s early in the season. There’s no reason to overblow things, but at the same time, I need that rock, baby.”
A playful Wallace then followed three or four other comments with the refrain, “I need that rock,” and encouraged reporters to tell Flacco the same.
Perriman, meanwhile, acknowledged he was more frustrated with himself for his early drop in Sunday’s game. The 2015 first-round draft pick had an opportunity to make a big play inside Browns territory, but the ball bounced off his hands. On the next play, Flacco was sacked and the Ravens had to punt.
He also dropped another ball later in the game, although it was a much more difficult catch as a defender was all over him.
“I can’t blame nobody but myself,” said Perriman, who had 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns in his first full season last year. “That was just a bad drop for me. I potentially could have made that big play. Plays are going to come around. I’m not really worried about it, but you have to keep putting in work, keep getting better and control what I can control.”
The lack of opportunities for wide receivers beyond Maclin, who has nine catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns, is a the result of several factors. The Ravens have built two-score leads in each of the first two games, prompting a run-heavy approach.
The defense’s dominance — the Ravens have caused 10 turnovers in two weeks — has also resulted in the offense being a little more conservative and not forcing the ball downfield. Wallace joked that the defense is “kind of a curse for us right now.”
There’s also the matter of teams trying to take away the deep pass, which had been one of Flacco’s biggest strengths earlier in his career and a staple of the Ravens offense.
“On my end, I want to get Mike involved just because I feel like the more you get him involved early on, the better he becomes throughout the course of the game,” Flacco said. “So maybe that’s a little bit of a focus, but at the same time, we have to let the game come to us, especially the types of games we’ve been playing. We have to play patient offensive football. Our defense is playing well. We can’t try to do too much early on in football games. We’ve got to let the game come to us and pick our spots to take it over.”