Nine carries, 24 yards.
While it may look like this is the stat-line for one quarter – or even one drive – this is, in fact, the TOTAL collective rushing performance of the Ravens backfield on Sunday, which contributed to a 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
This is the same backfield that features two players named to the Pro Bowl a season ago in Ray Rice and Vonta Leach. This is also the same backfield that features one of the best complementary – and promising – backs in the the NFL in Bernard Pierce.
And yet, N-I-N-E carries.
Plenty of things went wrong yesterday in Orchard Park, but when it comes to running game, this is what stood out:
Lack Of Balance
Coming into the game, the Bills owned the NFL’s 28th ranked defense, largely due to the fact that they had allowed an average of 155 yards per game on the ground, tied for 30th. This should have been a field day for the Ravens, but the coaching staff treated this like a game of Madden, pulling the plug far too soon.
When the Ravens did run, it was predictable. During the NINE total rushing attempts, the left side of the field was essentially eliminated. The non-existent lane created by center Gino Gradkowski and left guard Kelechi Osemele was the furthest left the running backs would even attempt to pound the ball.
In the end, Rice and Pierce will be taking heat from the national media for their lack of production, but they were merely casualties of a horrible offensive game plan.
Juan Castillo’s official job title is Run Game Coordinator. Haven’t heard of that title before? Well, he’s the only person in the league with it.
Castillo was brought on primarily to address the offensive line and appears to have control over the line while current offensive line coach Andy Moeller apparently sits back and watches. However, the running game has been anything but coordinated. The team came into Sunday’s game ranked 25th in the league, averaging 77.3 YPG. After their 24-yard performance, they’ll likely end up dead last after this week.
Coach Harbaugh is loyal to his friends, and Castillo and Harbs have quite a history together, but something has got to give. Why can’t this team run block? What schemes were installed this offseason to take guys who looked so good down the stretch last year and made them look so horrible now?
I don’t doubt Castillo being a good coach, but whatever worked for him in Philadelphia (where he was an offensive assistant from 1995-2010 before oddly switching to defense in 2011) clearly isn’t working in Baltimore.
At halftime, the Bills not only led 20-7, but they were winning the time of possession battle as well (+ 4:34). Even though Buffalo would receive the ball back after halftime, the Ravens forced a punt and received the ball with 13:04 left in the third quarter.
With the Ravens trailing by just 13 points, plenty of time remained to get the offense in sync, and establish a running game. However, neither of those things happened because the coaching staff abandoned Rice and Pierce far too soon, at one point calling 31 straight pass plays before running the ball again.
During that stretch, trailing 23-14 late in the third quarter, the Ravens had the ball at their own 38. A neutral zone infraction by the Bills set them up with a 1st-and-5 from their own 43. Three incomplete passes later (!!!) they were punting.
You can’t pick up five yards on three downs to move the chains?
Could it be any more evident that the coaches lack confidence in this offense’s ability to move the ball on the ground?
Play Action Isn’t Fooling Anyone
After calling 25 consecutive pass plays, the Ravens actually thought they were going to fool the Bills with play action. Facing a 1st-and-10 inside the red zone and still trailing just 23-14, Joe Flacco faked a handoff before aiming a pass to Leach that fell incomplete.
Following that play, the Ravens went right back to the play action again. Incomplete.
3rd-and-10 from the 17. Incomplete.
Vonta Leach Should Have Been Charged Admission
With a 4.5-sack game already to his credit earlier this season, Mario Williams is a force on the Bills defense worth game-planning for. It was evident that the Ravens were trying to run away from him at all costs, but they apparently forgot they have the best fullback in the NFL on their roster.
Vonta Leach was only on the field for 11 snaps on Sunday – on two of those, he was used as a receiver.
At least he got one of the best seats of any observer in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
There will be a learning curve with Gradkowski, who is in his first season as the Ravens’ starting center. Gradkowski was able to learn from one of the best centers to ever play the game in Matt Birk, but knowledge can only go so far. Gradkowski has been getting pushed around plenty in his first four games, and according to Pro Football Focus, was the second-worst ranked offensive player (-4.1) on the Ravens Sunday. The only guy worse? Fellow Delaware alum Joe Flacco (-7.3).
On the day, Gradkowski was responsible for one sack, one quarterback hit and three hurries.
Haven’t we seen this movie before? What is it with Ravens offensive coordinators that seems to make them forget their running backs? You can’t win games throwing 50+ times, yet in a game that they never trailed by more than 13 points, that’s exactly what the Ravens did.
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