OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens’ offense has skidded to a halt following a fast start to this season.
The Ravens haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first half since an Oct. 4 win over the New England Patriots.
The offense has only notched two touchdowns in the past dozen quarters as quarterback Joe Flacco has gone three games in a row without a touchdown pass. And the Ravens now rank 13th in total offense with 349.4 yards per contest and 12th in scoring offense with a 23.7 average.
Now, the Ravens have to contend with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top-ranked defense that’s surrendering just 277.9 yards and 18.4 points per contest.
Despite the problems, the Ravens are maintaining their confidence.
“We feel good,” Flacco said. “And what better game to do it than against these guys? We feel confident that we’re going to go out there and score touchdowns, and when you don’t, it’s disappointing. We’ve got to do whatever we can do to fix that, and I think we’re on our way to getting the job done.”
Flacco threw a costly interception during last week’s 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts when he was picked off by middle linebacker Gary Brackett.
Brackett baited Flacco into the interception by faking a blitz and catching on to the fact that Flacco wanted to throw to running back Ray Rice over the middle.
Flacco wound up completing just 1 of his 5 attempts over the middle against Indianapolis.
Defenses are becoming more and more cognizant of that fact that Rice is Flacco’s primary checkdown option. He leads the team with 56 catches for 515 yards.
“Every now and then, he’s the first progression,” Flacco said. “But most of the time it’s when we have a route downfield and they’re doing a good job of covering it, and I’m just dumping it down to him.
“He’s my third receiver, and if they’re playing off him, it’s easy to just give him the ball and let him go. I would say there’s a little bit of time where he’s the guy, and then most of the time he’s just getting the checkdown.”
Flacco hasn’t spread the football around much lately.
Most of the time, he targets Rice or veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason nearly exclusively.
According to the official game book, 26 of his 35 passes against the Colts were targeting Rice or Mason.
Mason has caught 45 passes for 672 yards and four touchdowns.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t always been consistently impactful, though.
“Let’s keep it real, it’s been up and down,” Mason said. “I’m not going to put any more pressure on myself than what it needs to be. I’ve been in this game long enough to say that if you press, then bad things happen.
“So, I’m going to continue to stick to what I’ve been doing. I kind of got away from some things. I’ve got to go back to basics and trust in my technique and trust in what I’m doing, and I’ll go out there and have the game that I’m supposed to have.”
Against the Colts, Mason caught a season-high nine passes for 142 yards. The impact of the other receivers, Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington, and tight end Todd Heap was negligible.
“I think you just let the game plan run its course, and at the end of the game you look up and see what’s happened,” Flacco said. “For the most part, we try to get as many people involved as we can, and I think we’ll do a good job of that when we put the game plan together and when it’s all finalized come Saturday and Sunday.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron made the case Friday that teams have made it tough to get more players involved with defenses dictating the terms at times.
“That’s what we always want to do,” Cameron said. “We’ve got to get back to doing that like we did earlier in the year, as early as a month ago. We’ll do everything we can to do that. It’s easier said than done. Defenses can force you to push things a certain way.”
For the season, Flacco has completed 65.4 percent of his throws for 2,455 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions for an 89.1 passer rating.
That’s an improvement over last season at this time when he had completed 62 percent of his throws for 1,813 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 77.2 rating.
The task gets no easier for the Flacco this week against a Steelers defense headlined by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker James Harrison.
Plus, Flacco slumped against the Steelers in his last two games against them with a total of five interceptions and an average of a 20.2 rating in those games.
In Cameron’s opinion, last year’s struggles shouldn’t apply to how Flacco and the offense fares this time against a Steelers defense that will be missing strong safety Troy Polamalu due to a knee injury.
“The bottom line is that was then, now is now and obviously we’ve got to correct some things, which Joe has done and hopefully we have done,” Cameron said. “There are a lot of new players on offense. We’ve got several new faces. We’re way past the halfway point into this season, so that seems like a long time ago to me.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.