Ravens Offense Flexible, Dangerous

The Ravens rank seventh in the NFL in scoring and can beat teams several different ways.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Thursday, December 1st, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing

The Baltimore Ravens have plenty of options on offense.

They have Pro Bowlers at running back, fullback and wide receiver, a solidified offensive line, one of the best rookie wide receivers in the game, a duo of young talented tight ends and a quarterback with a proven ability to win games.

It’s a winning combination, and despite the perceived struggles the offense has endured, they rank seventh in the NFL with 24.7 points per game and have more flexibility than in past seasons.

“We definitely have some more weapons,” quarterback Joe Flacco said on Wednesday.

The Ravens have won games in just about every fashion, and have a variety of personnel packages that present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Baltimore can load up the backfield with running back Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach, or they can spread the field with receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Lee Evans, and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

“It really gives [Offensive Coordinator] Cam Cameron a lot of flexibility and different ways to attack the defense,” Evans said, “The more you can do the better, and what I think we have personnel-wise is just a lot of guys that can make plays.”

One of the key differences with this year’s set of skill players is the presence of pure speed. Smith has emerged as the primary deep threat, and now that Evans is back healthy, Baltimore has another player to stretch the field.

Defenses can’t leave safeties deep to cover both of them, and if they do, then that likely leaves the middle of the field open for Pitta or Dickson. Also, Rice and Leach are threats to catch the ball out of the backfield and Boldin is the team’s primary receiver with 48 catches and 747 yards this season.

Flacco, who has shown a tendency to spread the ball around, has his pick of targets.

“We’ve got the people,” Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said. “We can throw the football.”

Last season the Ravens had veteran receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason and longtime tight end Todd Heap to complement Boldin in the passing game. They were all formidable targets, but didn’t have the speed like Smith or Evans.

“I think last year people could kind of play a little more downhill on us in the back-end, and we’ve pushed the top off the coverage a little bit more and maybe spread the coverage out a little bit more,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We like to think we’ve opened up the field a little bit.”

Stretching the field isn’t just about having speedy receivers. Teams need a quarterback who can hit the deep route, and Flacco throws one of the best longs balls in the league. 

He is also getting time to throw, as the offensive line is playing as well as it has all season, allowing just two sacks in the last three games.

The Ravens have opened up the offense much more from when Flacco first entered the league, as he is on pace to break his career marks for passing yardage and throwing attempts in a season.

Most importantly, Flacco has shown the ability to win tight games throwing the football.

He drove the Ravens 92 yards in the game’s final two minutes to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field. He orchestrated a 16-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter against San Francisco, finding seven different receivers and converting four third downs in what proved to be the game-winning drive. He also threw for 238 yards in the second half against Arizona to lead the Ravens on an 18-point second-half comeback.

“We’ve got a ton of trust in Joe,” Cameron said.

The success of the offense, however, is not built entirely on the passing game. The run-pass balance has been a topic of debate at points this season, as Rice and some of his teammates have made it clear that he should get a significant number of touches each game.

The Ravens running game ranks in the bottom third of the league in the NFL in terms of yards per game, but Rice has been a key part of the team’s recent wins over San Francisco and Cincinnati, and he already has a career high in touchdowns (10) for a season.

And now that the season has hit December, where Rice has flourished in his career (outside of his rookie season where he was injured), he is hoping for a big month of production.

“I’ve had great Decembers since I’ve been a Raven,” Rice said. “We know what’s ahead of us, and December football is a time where I actually want to elevate my game.”

As the Ravens head into the final stretch of the regular season, where they control their own destiny for a shot at home field advantage in the playoffs, the offense is healthy and has the chance to show off everything it can do.

“Bottom line is,” Cameron said, “we can run it, we can throw it, and we’ve got to execute no matter what direction we decide to go, and do whatever it takes to win every individual game.”

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