OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens’ fumbling epidemic has gotten to the point where it’s trying the patience of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
And he’s trying to make sure it doesn’t become a chronic problem.
Midway through the preseason, the Ravens have fumbled eight times and lost four to rank second in the NFL in total fumbles this summer.
And the fumbles haven’t been confined only to reserves. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice have each coughed it up once.
Heading into Saturday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants at M&T Bank Stadium, the fumbling issue has become a major point of emphasis after fumbling four times and losing one against the Washington Redskins last weekend.
“First thing we need to work on Saturday is ball security,” Cameron said. “We think we emphasize it enough, but obvious we haven’t. So, we’re going to try and get that corrected. That will be our No. 1 goal coming out of the game Saturday night. We’ve got to find a way to be aggressive and still take care of the football.”
Last season, this wasn’t a problem for the Ravens’ offense with essentially the same personnel.
The Ravens had just 19 fumbles during the regular season, losing nine, to rank sixth in the league for fewest fumbles.
They finished the season with a plus-10 turnover margin to rank first in the AFC and fourth in the NFL.
“For us, ball security is always important,” said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who hasn’t fumbled in two preseason games. “No matter how many yards you put up if you turn the ball over you’re not going to beat many teams in this league. That’s something we always stress.”
Against the Redskins, Rice said he knocked the ball out of his own hands. Last season, Rice fumbled three times during the regular season.
“I’m paying attention to it because obviously I’m the one with the ball,” Rice said. “I’m going to pay more attention to it and just be more careful. I’m always trying to make a play. That comes with always trying to make a play when you get the ball in your hands. ..
“A lot of mine are when I’m going down, and I can get that fixed. I don’t have to fight for extra yards. I don’t have to stay up. I’ve got to get what I can get, and get down from there I’ve never really been a guy to fumble, and I definitely don’t want to continue to have that name.”
Besides Rice and Flacco, backup quarterback Marc Bulger has fumbled twice to lead the team with wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, quarterback Troy Smith and running backs Jalen Parmele and Curtis Steele all fumbling once apiece.
Parmele’s fumble was returned for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers to open the preseason.
“It’s not rocket science,” Stallworth said. “I just have to hold onto the ball.”
Holding onto the football, though, isn’t merely as simple as willpower and a strong grip.
There’s technique involved, too, in terms of ball placement, having the football on the outside shoulder when running away from defenders and being aware of when a big hit is coming.
“We kind of do a study,” Cameron said. “We take every turnover in the league every year and analyze what causes it. The No. 1 cause of fumbles is the first guy hitting someone extremely hard. At one time it used to be the second or third guy. Now, it’s somebody getting hit.
“The technique we use really shouldn’t be affected by that. The bottom line is it’s one hand until you can’t secure it with one hand. Then, it’s two. And then it’s take care of the ball any way you can. Get us to the next down.”
It’s obvious that the coaching staff has watched the football hit the ground more than enough this preseason.
When asked if it will be a problem going forward, Ravens coach John Harbaugh replied: “Well, it better not be if we want to win games.”
Cameron upped the ante on the importance of not surrendering the ball, emphasizing that it’s an attitude adjustment as much as a technique issue that’s in need.
He believes the Ravens need a greater sense of urgency when it comes to not fumbling.
“You’re carrying this entire state, all the Ravens fans, the entire organization when you carry that ball,” Cameron said. “That’s who you’re carrying with you. I think we’ve got the technique squared away, but I think now we’ve just got to develop a mindset that under no circumstances, regardless of the hit, are we going to turn the ball over.”