We’ve all fretted over the Ravens lethargic approach to the two-minute offense. It’s an approach that is so devoid of energy and rhythm that it’s even an insult to things that lack a sense of urgency. It’s as if someone slips Xanax in the team’s Gatorade jug.
And apparently it bothers John Harbaugh who when asked if he was satisfied with the pace of the offense while down by 10 in the fourth quarter, had this to say:
“No. No, I was not. We were in a two-score game there. It’s something we’ve addressed the last couple days at length. We didn’t do a great job of that at all. I don’t know if it was the environment. That’s part of it, probably. Communication wasn’t as good as it needed to be. We just didn’t move as quickly as we needed to in the end. When you chart it – which we do; we chart everything out – we were slow on every single play in that drive, even when we got the ball down in, when it really wasn’t about getting a first down. It’s about getting a touchdown right there. Heck, if we’re not going to get a touchdown, then we might as well kick a field goal with four minutes left, and we’d have four minutes to get the ball back. That was disappointing. That’s not something we did a good job of. We have to be way better in that situation in terms of moving quickly. Really, we need to do that in all of our two-minute situations. That’s something that we need to improve on, and that’s going back about a year-and-a-half. We’ll keep working on that. We’ve had our moments where we’ve gone very quickly and we’ve done well. But just generally, that’s a focus for us right now, and we can do better with that.”
Throughout the game Joe Flacco seemed to prematurely check down to his backs or Dennis Pitta. The check downs at times were out of necessity because time and time again the Ravens receivers ran route combinations that resembled clusters that were easy to defend, instead of running complementary routes designed to spread the defense while remaining visible within Flacco’s sight lines.
A look at the Coach’s Film from NFL Game Pass reveals too many situations like the one described below by Tony Massarotti from 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
So this is what the coverage looked like on the Ninkovich sack: pic.twitter.com/J2NQ8A6ePB
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) December 13, 2016
Given such situations Flacco has four options:
1. Hit his check down
2. Intentionally throw short of the covered receivers
3. Run if he can
4. Take the sack
This offense is a dinosaur!
Somebody should tell Mornhinweg it’s 2016, not 1996. What a dated gameplan vs. Patriots. Harbaugh should make another OC change for ’17
— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) December 14, 2016
That said there were a several times when Flacco prematurely checked down. Maybe he was confused by the looks the Patriots provided. Maybe, like he has so often, he predetermined where he was going with the football pre-snap. Maybe he just expected his receivers to be covered and chose the path of least resistance.
Let’s examine what Joe did on the Ravens last possession, down by 10, 30-20. With 6:15 to go the Ravens took over at their own 19-yard line following a boneheaded decision by Devin Hester to bring the kickoff out from 4 yards deep.
The Ravens quickly faced a 2nd-and-10 after an errant pass to Kamar Aiken – a head scratching 5-yard pass to the short left.
As you can see from the image above, Flacco is well protected yet despite the adequate time and the game situation, he opts for a safe pass to Dennis Pitta that goes for 2 yards. Just beyond Pitta at the 30-yard line and within Flacco’s sight line, Aiken is open, running a short post. He has the closest defender Devin McCourty turned. This is an easy completion with an opportunity for YAC.
Flacco makes up for it on the next play delivering a fastball to Mike Wallace for a 20 yard pickup. The Ravens got a new set of downs on their own 41 with 4:56 left in the game.
Following the completion to Wallace and still operating from the shotgun, Flacco drops back (picture above) and looks left with Logan Ryan coming on a corner blitz. Flacco is oblivious to the rush which is late and doesn’t affect the play. Notice Aiken who has inside position on the left and is already beyond his man with no safety help.
Once again Flacco checks down, this time to a well accounted for Kenneth Dixon and misses a wide-open Aiken and the blown coverage despite both being in his line of sight. An outstanding effort by Dixon, driving two defenders out of bounds produces a 5-yard gain and stops the clock.
The Ravens now face a 2nd-and-5 at their own 46 with 4:48 to go. Flacco opts to check down to Kyle Juszczyk. The play goes for no gain.
Along the left sideline Breshad Perriman has a step on his man. Granted it would have taken Brady-like precision and accuracy to make the play, yet it is clearly a better option than Juszczyk. A pass to Perriman could have produced a big play or resulted in pass interference. Even an incompletion is better than the check down that goes nowhere and wastes 37 seconds of game clock.
Facing a 3rd-and-5 with 4:11 to go at his own 46, Flacco hits Steve Smith, Sr. down the right sideline with a nicely thrown back-shoulder pass for a gain of 25. It’s now 1st-and-10 at the Patriots 29 with 4:04 to go. Unfortunately the next play is another check down to Dixon (2 yards) followed by a short crosser to Chris Moore for 5 yards. Two plays, 7 yards and 76 precious seconds wasted, and still down by 10.
It’s now 3rd-and-3 from the Patriots 22 with 2:48 left.
With plenty of time to survey the field, Flacco locks in on Pitta running a short out to the right intended to get the necessary 3 yards to move the chains. Unfortunately the stare down causes Flacco to miss two other opportunities to pick up the first down.
Chris Moore is angling towards the sideline and has a step on his man. A well-placed throw gets the first down and more plus it presents an opportunity to save some clock by getting out of bounds. Perriman is running a crosser at the 10-yard line. Hitting him in stride gets the first down and with his elite speed, possibly even a touchdown.
Does the exchange rate make Flacco elite in London?
— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) December 14, 2016
Instead Flacco opts for Pitta who picks up two yards. John Harbaugh then inexplicably elects to kick the field goal.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for sure, but on this drive most of it falls on Flacco with an assist to Marty Mornhinweg.
Oh and one last thought, Coach Harbaugh if this lethargic two-minute offense goes “back about a year-and-a-half”, whose fault is that?