Ravens' running game once again lifeless

Ravens' running game once again lifeless
October 13, 2013, 6:30 pm
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Joe Flacco: 'I gotta be better and we all have to be better'

(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ravens’ running game has been a consistent problem that has become a major problem.

It feels like somebody keeps hitting the same song on an iPad. The tune hasn’t changed.

After watching the Ravens rush for just 47 total yards Sunday, during a 19-17 loss to the Packers, here are two questions to ask. Are the Ravens (3-3) ever going to run the ball effectively this season? And if they don’t, can they make the playoffs?

Six games is not a small sample size. More than one-third of the season has been played, and the Ravens have one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks. If that doesn’t change, the Ravens need to find a Plan B offensively. Either that, or make other plans come playoff time.

At this point, the Ravens’ offense seems crippled, trying to flourish with a running game that doesn’t exist. They didn’t abandon the running game against the Packers. The running game abandoned the Ravens.

The most glaring example came in the second quarter, when the Ravens had first-and-goal at the four, ran four straight running plays, and didn’t get the touchdown. After Ray Rice picked up a total of three yards on three straight running plays, coach John Harbaugh could have called for a field goal that would have tied the game, 3-3. Instead, Harbaugh went for it on fourth-and-one. It was the right call. The Ravens needed an offensive spark. Their defense was playing well. Harbaugh showed confidence in his offensive line by going for it, and they Ravens could have repaid Harbaugh’s faith by picking up the touchdown.

Instead, Bernard Pierce was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the one. That sequence was a microcosm of the Ravens’ season. No matter the opponent, no matter the situation, the running game has let them down.

After the game, Rice (14 carries, 34 yards) did not try to sugarcoat the Ravens’ anemic ground attack.

“It’s a problem that we’ve got to get fixed, and we’ve got Pittsburgh next week,” Rice said.

“We would love to run the ball better. It’s not something that you plan on – going out there and messing up. The run game has to get better.”

For that to happen, the offensive line has to play better, and there is no guarantee that will happen. Eugene Monroe made his first start at left tackle, and was beaten for one sack, but rated his performance as “relatively solid.” It was, but collectively the Ravens’ line simply is not creating enough daylight for Rice and Pierce to run through.

Asked what happened on the Packers’ goal line stand, Rice said, “They (the Packers) made good plays. They created piles. They did what good goal-line defenses do. I never had a fair one-on-one shot with a guy. There was always two or three (defenders) in the hole.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome has already traded for Monroe, who is an upgrade over the player he replaced, Bryant McKinnie. It’s up to the current unit of Monroe, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Gino Gradkowski, right guard Marshal Yanda, and right tackle Michael Oher to raise its game. It’s up to offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to find a sequence of calls, and a variety of running plays that will help his unit get going. It’s up to quarterback Joe Flacco to play more efficiently as well. Flacco’s numbers looked good Sunday (20 for 34, 342 yards, two touchdowns), but he had a few off-target throws, and did not let himself off the hook.

“For the most part, the pass protection was pretty good,” Flacco said. “It was just overall not good. We just couldn’t get anything going, and you can’t expect to play that badly for that long and win a game.

“I think I’ve got to be better, and we all have to get better, or we’re not going to win football games.”

Flacco is right. Harbaugh expressed confidence, when asked if he was frustrated about the offensive struggles.

“We’ve got the right people,” Harbaugh said. “We’re doing the right things. The thing we’re not going to do is overreact.”

With 10 games left to play, the Ravens have time to improve. But if the running game keeps letting them down, the Ravens can only expect to go so far.

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