Ravens abandoned running game way too early in loss to Colts

When the Ravens started talking about building a strong running game in August, there were images of the 1960 Green Bay Packers and the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had built strong running games while in Denver and Houston, so expectations were high in Baltimore. Then came the 62 pass attempts by the Ravens in a season-opening loss to Cincinnati.

There went the running game.

But then the Ravens rushed for 157, 160 and 127 yards in the next three games, and the tough running approach was back. Then came Sunday. The Ravens ran the ball just 15 times for 90 yards in a 20-13 loss, and this identity thing was thrown out the window again.

Right now, the Ravens' offensive identity changes from week to week. Against bad teams, the Ravens are a running team. Against good teams, the offense is a mess.

That has to change.

For the Ravens to win consistently, they need to stick with the running game because their receivers and defense aren't good enough to dictate anything else.

Against two quality teams, the Ravens have pushed the panic button and abandoned the run. Both resulted in losses.

Flacco threw 38 times Sunday and the Ravens put running backs Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Bernard Pierce on the shelf early, especially in the second half when they touched the ball just six times.

We've heard the tired excuses before. The Colts outnumbered the Ravens in the box. Flacco checked out of the runs to passes. The Ravens fumble too much. The Ravens got behind and had to catch up.

The Ravens just didn't man up. They kept letting Flacco fill the skies with passes instead of giving the Colts steady doses of Forsett, Pierce and Taliaferro.

Trailing 6-3 at the half, the Ravens first possession of the third quarter lasted six plays and ended with a Flacco interception. The Ravens had only one running play and the drive lasted 1 minute and 40 seconds.

On their next drive, which consisted of five plays, the Ravens opened with Pierce runs up the middle for 13 yards and another for 12 yards and one more for 2 yards. After two incomplete passes, the Ravens punted. Elapsed time: About three minutes.

Pierce carried only one more time in the half and that made no sense. He ran extremely hard on his first two carries, like a player obsessed with trying to get his starting job back. The Colts couldn't stop him, but the Ravens did.

They stopped Forsett, who had an 11-yard touchdown run with 7:17 left in the game to bring the Ravens within 20-13. They stopped Taliaferro, who rushed for 91 yards against the Browns on Sept. 21 and closed out Carolina with some strong runs in the fourth period last week.

The Ravens out thought themselves and beat themselves.

Kubiak has done a good job rebuilding this offense and getting more out of Flacco and the offensive line this season, but he had a bad game Sunday. Indianapolis had the ball for more than 17 minutes longer than the Ravens.

Wasn't that a reason to run the ball more, just to give the defense some much-needed rest?

Instead, Kubiak, like so many offensive coordinators before him, got a whiff of the toxic fumes left behind by the Colts' high octane offense and wanted to engage in a shootout.

But the Colts have Reggie Wayne and T.Y Hilton and a quarterback named Andrew Luck. And the Ravens have Flacco, Steve Smith and, and, and. ...

And that was another reason to run the ball more. Ravens receiver Torrey Smith seems to have lost his confidence and fellow receiver Jacoby Jones is just lost. The Ravens couldn't handle the Colts' blitz packages as Flacco was sacked four times and hit six others.

The Ravens should have run the ball more if for no other reason than to slow down the Colts' pass rush and save the $120 million the team has invested in Flacco.

But the Ravens and Kubiak couldn't slow down. They got caught up in the moment against Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano, a head coach familiar with Kubiak's offense from his days as head coach in Houston, and also familiar with schemes run in Baltimore from his days as the Ravens' defensive coordinator.

But this was more about the Ravens than the Colts. When things aren't going well, just make the game simple. Run the ball. It would have been much easier for rookie left offensive tackle James Hurst to plow ahead instead of chasing outside linebacker Bjoern Werner around the edge.

A team with a true identity of running the ball stays with it because that's commitment. In this case and at this time, running the ball is what the Ravens do best.

The offense is a work in progress. The defense bends and occasionally breaks, but stays on the field way too long. Cincinnati broke it, and so did the Colts Sunday.

So the Ravens really need to keep running the ball.

And running, and running and running ... until they get better in other areas.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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