LOMBARDI’S WAY: Ravens’ offense needs to step it up

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Ravens’ offense needs to step it up

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The Ravens victory over the Titans on Saturday night had a very familiar look and feel to it. When the Ravens traveled to Nashville back in January of 2001 to take on Jeff Fisher’s No. 1 seeded 13-3 squad in a Divisional Playoff after winning a wild card game, they were beaten on the field convincingly in all facets of the game.

Back then, the Ravens were outgained to the tune of 317 yards to 134. In this year’s Divisional Playoff showdown, six days removed from a wild card playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens again fell far short of the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans (again 13-3) in yards gained (391-211). In 2001 the Titans had 17 (23-6) more first downs than the Ravens while controlling the ball for 40:29. This time around Tennessee moved the sticks 12 more times than the Ravens (21-9) and held on to the ball for 34:07 even with leading rusher Chris Johnson on the sidelines for more than half the game.

Fortunately for the Ravens the striking similarities don’t end there.  Despite being beaten up and down the field, they outpaced the Titans in the only measurement that really counts – the scoreboard.

And again they’ve earned a chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The feelings of déjà vu are hard to ignore and it’s difficult to not view the Ravens as a team of destiny particularly with the less than flattering expectations entering the season.  But if the Ravens don’t make philosophical changes to the way they approach Sunday’s game offensively the only thing they are destined for is watching the Super Bowl at home on February 1.

Let’s make no mistake about it, the ’08 Ravens defense is not on par with the Super Bowl winning defense. Moreover, the ’08 Pittsburgh Steelers are not the ’00 Oakland Raiders. Put it together and the conclusion is clear and present – Rex Ryan’s unit can’t carry the team through the land of steel.  The truth be told, they looked a bit fatigued against the Titans.  You only need to look at some rather shoddy tackling for proof.

The Ravens offense must show up!

Cam Cameron must attack the Steelers defense and if he thinks for a second that he can bring the same conservative, unimaginative Billick-esque game plan to Pittsburgh that he traveled to Tennessee with and be successful, he is in for a rude Terrible Towel awakening on what promises to be a frosty night in Western PA.

If Cameron does employ the passive, play-not-to-lose approach in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will flat out make the Ravens one dimensional and force them into many third and long situations.  That will be music to the pinned back ears of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. And that will force turnovers and force the Ravens consequently into a long winter’s nap.

During the regular season the Ravens were the fourth best rushing offense producing 148.5 yards per game on average – less than 9 yards behind the league leading Giants. On Saturday Titans’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, just as he did in the ’04 playoff game at M&T, dared the Ravens to throw.  Regularly he jammed 8, sometimes 9 players in the box to choke off the Ravens’ running game. 

Mission accomplished.

The Ravens ran thirty times for a paltry 50 yards. They ran it 12 times out of a possible 18 first down plays and produced 34 yards.  Eight of their rushing plays were for losses and one went for no gain. The failure to run effectively forced the Ravens into many difficult to manage third down attempts.  Overall they were 3 of 13 on third down with six of those attempts being from 10 or more yards away from the first down marker.  On average the Ravens’ faced third down attempts of 8.3 yards.

Something has to give here and it probably won’t be the Steelers.  They’ve done a nice job of protecting the football of late and didn’t turn it over once against the Chargers. The Ravens have feasted on turnovers thus far in the playoffs but such treats will likely be few and far between at Heinz Field.

The Steelers front 7 is as good as there is in the league.  And as solid as Troy Polamalu is inside the box defending the run he is almost equally vulnerable defending the intermediate and deep pass. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor aren’t exactly prototypical cover corners and they’ve been protected to a large extent by Pittsburgh’s impressive defensive front and their ability to get after the quarterback, particularly when opponents are forced to pass.

In the first half yesterday, Philip Rivers was 4 of 5 for 77 yards and a TD on first down passes.  On first down runs, the Chargers managed 6 yards on 6 carries. On the entire day even as San Diego saw the game slipping away and being forced to throw, Rivers was 10 of 16 for 133 yards, 2 scores and an interception when throwing on first down.

Against the Steelers it’s important to set up the run with the pass.

The Ravens cannot be meek or sheepish.  The meek may inherit the Earth but they don’t win in the NFL during the postseason.

Yes the Ravens have played with a ton of heart this season.  Their perseverance is impressive and their will inspiring.  But to advance to the Super Bowl, they need to unleash Joe Flacco.  They need to stop buying into the “he’s just a rookie” discussion.

So what, he’s a rookie – but he’s an uncommon one and they need to let him make plays. They need to let him be a quarterback and not just a caretaker. If the Ravens stare down third downs of 8.3 yards on average against the Steelers, Flacco will not stay clean and he will be forced into game altering mistakes. Make no mistake about that!

So Cam it’s up to you…get busy living or get busy dying.

Get busy attacking or watch your quarterback be attacked.

The choice is yours and hopefully you will make the right one come Sunday.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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