Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Grades Through The Bye Week
It has been a mixed bag for the Baltimore Ravens’ offense thus far. The unit got off to a hot start, as they racked up copious amounts of yards and points as they cruised to a 3-1 start out of the gate. Joe Flacco was approaching “elite” status as he out-dueled Tom Brady in a huge week 3 victory over the New England Patriots. Ray Rice had three touchdowns through three games, and appeared poised for a 15-plus-touchdown season. Torrey Smith was emerging as a top-tier wide receiver after shredding the Patriots’ secondary. Dennis Pitta appeared to be a budding star at tight end and was a major factor in the Ravens’ potent passing attack. Then the last four games before the bye happened, and the Ravens have spiraled downward in basically every offensive aspect. Flacco has regressed into an average quarterback. Rice has only found the end zone in one of his past four games, and has had more than 63 yards rushing just once in those past four games as well. The receiving corp has been mediocre and has done nothing to really help or hurt Flacco and the passing attack. The tight ends have become basically invisible during the recent string of bad games. The offensive line has been more vulnerable and is allowing sacks at a much higher rate. All the while, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has stood idly by, doing little to stem the tide as his offense falls deeper into a slumber. The following is a position-by-position breakdown of each offensive unit thus far, grading each position on their overall performance through the bye week.
The success and failures of the offense have mirrored the play of Joe Flacco. The fifth-year quarterback was one of the top quarterbacks in the league after the Ravens’ fast 3-1 start. He was averaging just over 317 passing yards per game in those first four games before hitting the skids. Flacco has averaged a mere 189 in the past three games as the offense has sputtered. Overall Flacco’s passer rating of 84.0 ranks 20th in the NFL and his completion percentage of 59.5 percent ranks 23rd in the league. Flacco has 10 total touchdowns and seven total turnovers, so he is on pace for a very mediocre touchdown-to-turnover ratio. Flacco’s streaky play is a major reason why the once-feared Ravens’ offense ranks 16th in total yards per game. If the Ravens are going to take the next step as a team, Flacco’s play must be consistent the rest of the season, as the team goes when he goes.
Running Backs: B
On the surface, the Ravens’ rushing attack looks extremely disappointing. No one envisioned the Ravens to have the 19th-ranked rushing attack after seven games, but that is exactly where the Ravens sit. The main reason for the disappointing ranking has been a lack of attempts. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been pass-happy to say the least, as stud running back Ray Rice is only getting 15.1 attempts per game, which ranks 18th for running backs. Rice’s yards per carry average is a robust 4.9, which ranks 11th for all running backs with at least 20 carries. Those averages are nice, but Rice’s total of 524 yards rushing was only 28 more than the disappointing Chris Johnson has had through seven games as well. Rice has found the end zone five times, but his lack of consistent carries has been a major part of why the pass-happy offense has had major troubles in regards to consistency. Rookie Bernard Pierce has done a solid job in limited action as he has averaged 5.3 yards on his 23 carries. Overall the rushing attack has been very solid just very under-utilized. If the Ravens plan on making the playoffs, the workload for Rice and company must increase as the Ravens passing game has been too inconsistent to rely on.
Wide Receivers: C-
The inconsistent play of the wide receivers has correlated directly with the ups and downs of Flacco. The Ravens have only had a receiver go for 100 yards receiving twice, as Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have each accomplished the feat once. Boldin leads the team with an average of 64.7 yards receiving per game. That average ranks a mediocre 28th for all receivers and Boldin has only one touchdown on the season, which came in the opening game. Smith meanwhile has mirrored Flacco in terms on inconsistency. Smith ranks tied for 34th in yards per game, but he has reeled in four touchdowns, which is as many as stud receivers like Roddy White and Brandon Marshall have. Smith is averaging 17.4 yards per catch, which puts him in that category for receivers with at least 15 receptions. However, Smith has only eclipsed 60 yards receiving twice this season, so there is still much more to be desired from the young speedster. Jacoby Jones has been mostly invisible as the third receiver, as he has a mere 13 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown. Second-year receiver Tandon Doss has a touchdown, but has only 60 yards on the season. Overall the unit has been another inconsistent piece of what has become a disappointing passing game.
Tight Ends: D+
Dennis Pitta came out of the gates cruising, as he was Flacco’s favorite target and emerged as the top tight end despite Ed Dickson being listed as the number one tight end on the depth chart. Like Flacco, Pitta started the season on fire, but has come crashing down to Earth since. Pitta has just 88 yards in his past four games and hasn’t found the end zone since week 3. His 39.4 yards per game rank a mediocre 18th for tight ends and has only 31 more yards receiving than Rice. Dickson’s season has been an absolute nightmare, as he has only eight catches for 74 yards and zero touchdowns. Dickson came into the season as the Ravens’ top tight end but his regression has been eye-popping. After reeling in 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns last season, the third-year tight end from Oregon is on pace for a paltry 169 yards and no touchdowns. Dickson’s regression is another reason why Flacco and the passing attack have been very underwhelming this season.
Offensive Line: C+
Considering this unit was reorganized right before the opening game of the season, the offensive line has been pretty solid but not impressive by any means. Flacco has been sacked 18 times, which is tied for eighth-most in the league, so there is much room for improvement there. The run-blocking has been the strength of this unit, as Rice and Pierce have been stellar in yards per carry. However, the lack of offensive balance has put the offensive line in some tough situations. The propensity for the pass has put the offensive line in too many predictable passing situations, which has allowed opposing offenses to bring the house and tee-off on Flacco. The major change in the offensive line was the opening day benching of veteran Bryant McKinnie. Michael Oher switched from right tackle to left tackle to replace McKinnie, while second-round pick Kelechi Osemele was inserted at right tackle to replace Oher. Osemele has been solid in his rookie season, and appears to have a bright future. Veteran Matt Birk has been an anchor at center, while right guard Marshall Yanda has been playing pretty close to his Pro Bowl form of last season. Ramon Harewood has been average as he has gotten his shot as the everyday left tackle. Overall the unit has been slightly above average, however the unit has room for improvement in pass protection. If Cameron can call a more balanced offensive game, it will only help the offensive line find consistency, which will help Flacco stay upright more often.
Offensive Coordinator: D
Considering all the hoopla coming into the season about how powerful the Ravens’ offense was going to be, the result at the bye week has been a total disappointment. The Ravens’ rank 16th in yards per game, and the offensive imbalance has put the offense in predictable situations way too many times. Cameron’s stubbornness in the last three games has been totally evident, as he continued to force the passing game despite an obvious lack of comfortability from Flacco and the passing attack. His under-utilization of Rice has been near criminal, especially on third down. Two staggering statistics that really condemn Cameron’s play-calling are time of possession and third down conversions. Despite owning a beast like Rice, who can churn out yards and eat the clock, the Ravens rank dead-last in the league in time of possession. When the pass-happy offense has been off its game, the results have been a lot of quick three-and-outs. Thus they have chewed up little time, and the result has been putting a beleaguered defense on the field for way too long. In regards to third down, the Ravens rank 22nd, converting only 35 percent of the time. It hasn’t mattered how long the third down has been, as Cameron has repeatedly called pass plays. Considering how valuable Rice has been at gaining tough yards throughout his career, and how fantastic Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach is at lead-blocking, the play calling on third down has been mind-numbing. A perfect example was the Ravens’ first loss of the season in Philadelphia, as the Ravens went 0-for-7 on third or fourth-and-short (two yards or less) situations. The Ravens passed the ball in all seven failed attempts that game, and that lack of execution while showing the pass-happy nature of the offense has been a microcosm for the Ravens futile efforts on third down. With the recent string of devastating injuries to an already-brutal defense, it really puts the onus on Cameron and the offense to control the ball more and keep their ailing defense off the field. Cameron would be wise to go to his workhorse Rice to control the clock while also setting up play-action options for the stagnant passing game. This is now an offensive team, so Cameron’s play-calling should reflect that. Gone are the days of the Ravens’ defense bailing out the offense. If the Ravens are to keep their Super Bowl aspirations alive, the offense must become the identity of the team.