OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice was sitting on the bench Monday night, shaking his head after losing his grip on the football in the first quarter.
It wasn’t a good night for the Pro Bowl running back or the Baltimore Ravens’ beleaguered offense that practically dug up the ground to discover a new franchise low with zero first downs in the first half of a shocking 12-7 road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Definitely not quarterback Joe Flacco, who was erratic in his accuracy and under siege from Jaguars pass rushers as the offensive line failed to protect him adequately. And his wide receivers were nearly as bad, unable to shake press coverage to get open downfield.
Now, oft-criticized offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is under scrutiny for not involving Rice more often.
That strategy was called out by never bashful outside linebacker Terrell Suggs after Rice rushed for only 28 yards on eight carries with five receptions for 35 yards. Following Rice’s first fumble in 522 touches, he spent over 10 minutes on the sidelines before handling the football again.
"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had six carries, I don’t really know what the game plan was," Suggs said. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back and he’s not getting his touches, I’m going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball and I think we should feed him. They feed their horse. We have to feed our horse.
"I have to question how many catches Anquan had. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players. We’ve got guys on this team that can do some great things. We have to use those guys. It’s that simple.”
Actually, Suggs and coach John Harbaugh are in lockstep when it comes to utilizing Rice more.
It didn’t make sense to Harbaugh to not get the Ravens’ most explosive offensive weapon more involved.
“He’s got to get more than eight carries," Harbaugh said. "When you’re a play caller, you’re searching for things to get you going, to get you jump-started. It wasn’t like those eight carries were gashing them or anything like that, either. We were looking for some things that we can do, searching a little bit for a way to get a first down.
“ It wasn’t so much about, ‘Hey, you know what? Let’s get so many carries to Ray Rice.’ We were just trying to find a way to beat the defense and get a first down and get going. Because when you do that, that’s when those carries start adding up. By the same token, eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice. There’s no doubt about it.”
While Rice averaged only 3.5 yards per carry, it was an identical success rate for Jaguars star running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars stuck with Jones-Drew despite three fumbles and he pounded out 105 yards on 30 carries.
Harbaugh said he doesn’t have an issue with Suggs for sounding off, and expressing what many other players in the locker room were wondering.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Terrell Suggs,” Harbaugh said. “Terrell Suggs’ heart is always in the right place. He’s a leader on our football team. I listen to all of our guys, and definitely I listen to Terrell Suggs. It’s not like we’re not trying to do the things he’s talking about doing.”
And Cameron acknowledged afterward that Rice needs the ball more.
"Hey, I agree with him wholeheartedly," Cameron said. "In every game, we have to make sure Ray Rice is involved."
Harbaugh denied that Rice was benched or that there was a problem between the former Rutgers All-American and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.
“Absolutely not, he wasn’t benched,” Harbaugh said. “Those two guys have an amazing relationship. That is an honest relationship, too.”
The Ravens gained just 16 yards of total offense by halftime, a franchise record for a half.
The Ravens converted just 2 of 12 third downs, a 17-percent clip.
They finished with 146 yards of total offense, 42 shy of the worst showing in franchise history.
And they averaged only 2.8 yards on their 53 offensive plays.
Flacco completed 6 of 16 passes for 8 yards in the first half, finishing just 21 of 38 for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Flacco has completed 52.1 percent of his throws for 1,415 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions for a 76.2 passer rating.
He ranks 32nd out of 34 quarterbacks in completion percentage, and 26th in quarterback rating.
Not surprisingly, Cameron and Flacco are catching most of the flak for the offensive struggles.
“That’s part of our deal, heat on me, heat on Joe,” Cameron said. “We can all do better. That goes with the territory. We’ve got to execute better. We need more consistency.
“You have to be fundamentally sound. We have some new moving parts. That’s not an excuse. That’s something we’re working through.”
As good as Flacco was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the St. Louis Rams and the Houston Texans, he struggled against the Tennessee Titans when he completed under 50 percent of his throws and tossed an interception.
And Flacco hit only 10 of 31 throws for 163 yards against the New York Jets and had an interception returned for a touchdown as he was incomplete for 12 consecutive throws with no completions in the second and third quarter.
Since the Ravens cut tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason before training camp, Flacco has been getting acclimated to new personnel. That includes tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta and rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith with Lee Evans still sidelined with a left ankle injury.
"We’re a young football team," Flacco said. "We’re switching guys out and in up front. We need some time. We got to win while we start gelling and we’re really inconsistent right now. That’s part of what’s good about this.
“You’d like to learn while you’re winning football games and thus far, we’ve done that. As the year goes on, we’re going to get better and better. That’s one of the upsides of this football team.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals (1-5), the Ravens (4-2) now rank 20th in total offense, 19th in rushing and 17th in passing
Cameron was retained after last season, and owner Steve Bisciotti said he looked forward to seeing how he would coach under fire.
Is the criticism deserved for Cameron?
“It’s warranted for all of us,” said Harbaugh, adding that he’s more heavily involved with the offense this year. “I think we all deserve to have the finger pointed at us when the offense plays like that. It’s just a bad performance, and everybody knows it. Cam’s got broad shoulders. He’s a tough guy, and he’s been doing this for a long time.
“And everybody in the building respects him. Nobody’s going to fight harder to make this offense achieve what it’s capable of achieving. It’s still early in the season, but we can’t afford more performances like that. We’ve all got to go to work.”