Heading into Monday Night’s game all indications were that the Ravens wanted to improve their rushing attack and clearly they need to. The Ravens aren’t good enough in the passing game to be one dimensional and their offensive line which has given up 22 sacks over the past 6 games isn’t up to the task anyway.
Plus the elements of winter dictate that if your team is going to be among the last standing in January, you better be able to run the football and defend the run too.
The Texans entered last night’s game tied for 10th defending the run yet they were 31st defending the pass. Their overall defensive ranking was three rungs from the league’s bottom feeding Washington Redskins. Today, following their loss to the Ravens the Texans improved to 6th in the league defending the run.
It’s safe to say something went awry for Cam Cameron’s best laid contrarian plans.
This morning the Ravens woke up as the 21st ranked rushing attack and they are tied with the Bengals for next to last in the league in rushing yards per carry (3.6). Of the top 6 seeded teams in the AFC the Ravens are the worst rushing team. Pittsburgh’s 4.1 ypc at No. 17 in the league is the next most inefficient running game amongst the contenders.
To put the difference between the Steelers 4.1 ypc and the Ravens’ 3.6 in perspective, Cameron’s offense would have to average 6.5 yards per carry over the next 3 games just to pull even with Pittsburgh assuming they remain status quo.
In 2008 the Ravens’ ypc was 4.0 and in ’09 it was an impressive 4.7.
During Joe Flacco’s rookie season in ’08 the Ravens gave up 33 sacks. Last season a gimpy Flacco hit the deck 36 times and now this season through 13 contests he’s had to dust off 32 times and this season he isn’t hobbled by leg injuries – not yet anyway.
Now it might be said that giving up only 33 sacks in ’08 had much to do with the Ravens rushing the ball 37 times per game on average. But last season the Ravens ran the ball 29.3 times per game compared to 29.5 times per game this season.
So it’s not as though Flacco is dropping back to throw more regularly in 2010. He’s not!
At the current pace Flacco will be sacked 39 times and the Ravens will finish the season 1.1 ypc less than in 2009.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
If anything with the additions of Anquan Boldin, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth combined with a healthy Todd Heap and a developing Ray Rice, the rushing attack was only supposed to become more efficient.
So why hasn’t it?
Is Jared Gaither’s absence that meaningful?
Gaither won’t return so what can the Ravens do now?
Well for one they might not want to discard the film from last night’s game so quickly. The Texans showed the Ravens at their own expense that one way to stave off a pass rush is to tire out the pass rushers and one way to make that happen is to run a no huddle offense.
During the first half the Ravens pressured Schaub and forced him to hurry some throws or check down to safe, shorter passes. While in the no huddle the Ravens’ pass rush fell off dramatically and Schaub had plenty of time to read through his progressions and attack vertically. Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Jarret Johnson were so tired that they only rushed 3 at times because no more than 3 had enough energy to get after Schaub.
Compare Joe Flacco under center versus in the shotgun. It’s pretty clear that he’s far more comfortable in the gun. And while I don’t have statistical evidence to prove this, my gut tells me that the Ravens run more efficiently out of the shot gun also.
So with the offensive line struggling in all phases, might a no huddle provide relief?
Is it too late in the season to change?
According to John Harbaugh, “At this point in time of the season, you are what you are and you’ve got to find a way to win.”
That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for needed change any time soon.
Last week the Ravens chose to embrace the season of giving by gift wrapping a “W” for Troy Polamalu and the Steelers.
Last night we nearly witnessed an epic collapse at the hands of the Santa Claus-clad Texans.
What’s next, Reliant Stadium Part II starring Drew Brees and the Saints?
Ravens apologists will remind you that the only stat that counts is a “W”. And while that might be true future “W’s” with this team in its present state are anything but a sure thing.
Your team as they say, “Is what it is” and Pilot Harbaugh has turned on the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign.
Brace yourself Ravens fans.
The ride ahead is expected to be a turbulent one.