"We stopped the run, and we didn't give up any big plays," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh when asked about his teams defensive preformance against the Steelers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
When the Ravens made the switch at offensive coordinator from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg, they didn't expect things to turn around drastically overnight. Quarterback Joe Flacco was off to one of the worst starts of his career. The running game was ineffective and the offensive line was playing poorly. Injuries were keeping several starters off the field.
Three games isn't nearly enough time to make any conclusions about Mornhinweg's performance as the team's play caller, but the Ravens' current offense certainly doesn't look a whole lot different than the old one.
Flacco is still struggling to mount a consistent downfield passing game. The running game has arguably gotten worse. The offensive line still isn't playing well enough. Penalties and mistakes continue to kill drives and cost the Ravens points.
Fresh off Sunday's 21-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game the Ravens won largely because of their defense and special teams, players and coaches insist offensive progress is being made. It's just not coming as quickly as they hoped.
"When you're involved in it, when you're in the middle of it, you see the progress in every little area," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We're making progress in many areas. The things that were holding us back in this game were across the board a little bit in every area. We just got to get better."
Wide receiver Kamar Aiken summed up the state of the Ravens' offense best when he said Monday, "There's definitely progress. It's little progress but it's progress. We would love to clean the penalties up and make some of those plays, and not have the what if's."
The Ravens returned to work Monday and immediately began preparations for Thursday night's game against the winless Cleveland Browns, who have one of the league's worst defenses. The win over the Steelers broke a four-game losing streak and moved the Ravens into a tie for first place in the AFC North. What it didn't do is ease any concerns about the play of the Ravens' offense.
The Ravens managed just 274 yards against a Steelers defense that came in ranked 27th in the NFL with 390.1 yards allowed per game. Ten of the Ravens' 13 drives against ended with either a punt or a turnover. Take away Mike Wallace's 95-yard touchdown catch on a slant pattern and the Ravens averaged only 2.9 yards per play. While trying to hold a 21-point fourth-quarter lead, the Ravens mustered two total yards.
"We make two plays in that game — we have a route up the right sideline [by Breshad Perriman] and a route up the left sideline [by Darren Waller] — if we make those two plays, I think you see a dramatically different output and therefore outcome," Harbaugh said.
Echoing something he said often in October, Flacco admitted Sunday to "a little frustration in the fact that we're not playing as well as we want to." Overall, the Ravens rank 27th in yards per game (325.1), 20th in passing yards per game (243.4) and 28th in rushing yards per game (81.8). Flacco has the second worst quarterback rating of any current starter in the league.
When Trestman was fired a day after the Oct. 9 loss to the Washington Redskins, the Ravens' offense was averaging 338.2 yards per game. In three games with Mornhinweg, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, they are averaging 303.2 yards per game.
It's not a fair comparison. Mornhinweg has been calling the plays for only three games. In two of those, the Ravens were without their top wide receiver, Steve Smith Sr., and two starting offensive linemen (Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley). Mornhinweg also deserves an extended chance to leave his imprint on the offense.
"I think Marty's personality is starting to permeate through their offense," Browns head coach Hue Jackson said Monday in a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters. "They're doing things Marty's way. They're throwing the ball down the field more, they're running more screens. They're doing things that Marty likes to do. But the biggest thing that I've seen with the Baltimore Ravens' football team is they are back to playing defense the way Baltimore plays defense."
Jackson's comment about the defense in response to a question about the offense is telling. So was safety Eric Weddle's assessment following Sunday's game that the defense has to "play great to win games." The Ravens haven't won a game this season when they've allowed more than 20 points.
The continued ineffectiveness of the running game remains a major concern. Trestman took a lot of criticism for his failure to establish and stick to the run, but the team's productivity on the ground has actually grown worse.
The Ravens are averaging 2.2 yards per carry over the past three games compared to 4.2 in the first five games under Trestman. They are also running the ball slightly less under Mornhinweg (22 carries per game) than they did under Trestman (24 carries per game), although the 11 runs against the New York Jets on Oct. 23 certain skewed the statistics.
Still, several players said that the game plan has been more balanced in recent weeks.
"Coach is game-planning, and it's been a more balanced game plan," said running back Terrance West, who has rushed for 31 yards on 23 total carries over the past two games. " That's what happened."
The Ravens have been able to make a few more plays down the field, none bigger than Wallace's 95-yard touchdown Sunday. It was the longest play from scrimmage in franchise regular-season history.
"We're taking a couple more shots down the field and playing a little more aggressive," Wallace said Monday. "We're attacking the defense more than when we were kind of dinking and dunking down the field."
Wallace has been saying for weeks that it is penalties — not play calling — that is holding the Ravens back. In the loss to the Jets, West's 52-yard run down to the Jets' 4-yard line was wiped away by a holding penalty committed by rookie Alex Lewis.
Against the Steelers, penalties nullified first-down receptions by Smith and Aiken, and then an ill-advised Flacco throw was intercepted, taking away another scoring chance. On the two other missed opportunities Harbaugh made reference to, neither Perriman nor Waller got off coverage and recognized the ball was coming their way quickly enough. If they had and made the catch, they would have had a free run down the sideline.
"It's that close but it's that far until you do it consistently," Harbaugh said. "We're doing it a lot of times, but we're not doing it consistently. That's what we have to find a way to do and I'm absolutely certain that we will do it."