Ravens' offense searching for consistency
OWINGS MILLS -- A quest for consistency hasn't ended for the Baltimore Ravens' offense, proving to be an elusive trait under the direction of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Although the offense displayed signs of emerging as a formidable unit last season, there were also a string of ineffectual games that contributed to the defending AFC North champions not claiming the top seed in the AFC.
"It's just execution," Cameron said. "I think you heard us say that a lot last year. I think there were stretches where we were able to do that, but stretches aren’t going to really get you where you want to be. You really can’t afford, anymore, to have a game where offensively you don’t play well."
During the Ravens' four losses last season, the offense only mustered an average of 12.75 points per contest.
In losses to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers, the offense generated two or less touchdowns.
During a defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens struggled with turnovers on special teams and managed to score only 17 points.
"We just want to be more consistent," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "You saw last year at times we looked great on offense and other times when we didn't look as good. For us, it's about coming out here and being consistent."
Overall, the offense climbed to a respectable 15th in the NFL with an average of 338.7 yards per game.
Led by Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, the Ravens manufactured a strong running game as they averaged 124.8 rushing yards per game. Rice gained a career-high 1,364 yards and rushed for a dozen touchdowns.
Working with several new targets after the Ravens cut tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"I think the sky is the limit for us," Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "With Ray and Joe, we just continue to keep getting better every year. And we flashed some really good things last year.
"We just need to be more consistent. I think we’ve flashed tools to be the No. 1 offense. We just needed to be consistent. We could run the ball, Joe could pass the ball. We’ve just got to put it together."
Last year, the Ravens ranked 19th in passing as they averaged 213.9 yards per game and finished 12th in scoring offense with a 23.6 average.
Flacco set a career-low with a 57.6 completion percentage, tied a career-high for interceptions and finished with the second-lowest touchdown total of his career.
However, Flacco silenced critics with a strong performance in the Ravens' AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots that included a potential game-winning throw dropped in the end zone by Lee Evans.
Flacco went 22 of 36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the 23-20 defeat to the Patriots.
"I think we were all pretty crushed after that one," Flacco said. "It probably won't be the last time that we will lose a big football game. I think the true test of a good team is how you get back up and get back after it. Since I've been here, we've been able to do that, and we are going to treat it the same. Obviously, it hurts and it stings, but you have to get back out here.
"We are all tough guys and understand that kind of thing happens sometimes. I think time is one thing, and getting back out here and running around and realizing that it's not the end of the world. We have to come out here and we have to come ready to play so that we can get right back there and have the same opportunity next season."
Cameron praised Flacco's work ethic.
Although not required to be there, Flacco has haunted the Ravens' training complex and hasn't missed any organized team activities.
"I think Joe has had his most consistent offseason," Cameron said. "He has always done well, but he is stacking days on top of each other right now."
Flacco is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, but the Ravens aren't anywhere close to negotiating a long-term contract extension with the franchise's all-time leading passer.
Flacco has remained focused on his workouts while his agent, Joe Linta, maintains a dialogue with team officials.
Meanwhile, his wife, Dana, is expecting the couple's first child later this month.
"It's good for me to be here because I'm the one that needs to make those guys go," Flacco said. "I'm the one that needs to make our offense go and bring those guys along as fast as we can. For them to have me here throwing to them and seeing what I go through, I think it's going to be a help for us."
The Ravens' offense produced some impressive moments last season.
They steamrolled the Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season with a 35-point explosion at M&T Bank Stadium.
In November, Flacco engineered a dramatic comeback win over the Steelers at Heinz Field with a late touchdown pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith.
And the offense piled up 37 points and 553 yards in a win over the St. Louis Rams with 405 yards and 30 points in a comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals after falling behind by three touchdowns.
"We've got the tools, which is great," Yanda said. "You can see the guys out there that we have, the tools, with Ray and Joe, Anquan and Torrey and those guys. So, we’re excited about it. I am very excited about it, and we’ll just take it one day at a time. Pretty methodical, but that’s all it takes.”
The Ravens retained Cameron after last season with a new contract.
Further improvement on offense will likely entail another big season from Rice, the Ravens' unsigned franchise player, and more progress from Flacco.
"I like our approach," Cameron said. "I like what Marshal is saying. I think our offensive guys are backing it up with the way they are working. I think that’s the important thing.
"When it comes from a guy like Marshal, you know it has meaning because he is going to back it up, and he is going to pull everybody along with him. He is a great leader. I love the fact that our guys are thinking that way."
NOTE: The Ravens claimed offensive tackle Paul Madsen off waivers from the Buffalo Bills.
Madsen, 26, is a 6-foot-4, 309-pound rookie from Colorado State.
He was a second-team all-conference selection the past two seasons.
Madsen was cut this week by the Bills.
Madsen is older than most rookies because he delayed his enrollment at Colorado State until 2007 to serve a Mormon mission in Lubbock, Tex., after signing a national letter of intent in 2004.
The Ravens created a roster spot for Madsen by cutting undrafted rookie running back Brandon Pendergrass, a free agent from Wake Forest.