If you happen to be a Ravens fan, you can't help but notice a troubling pattern starting to emerge with Baltimore's offense. It started last week against Denver, and apparently has carried over to the Ravens overtime loss against the Patriots this Sunday in Foxboro.
The 23-20 overtime loss is baffling on so many levels for die-hard Ravens fans. When you go back a couple weeks and watch how QB Joe Flacco attacked a much stronger defense in Pittsburgh through the air, you'd reasonably expect better results facing a Patriots secondary that's ranked 28th against the pass.
However, is team chemistry on offense to blame, or is it a higher power in the realm of coaching that's preventing Flacco and the rest of the Ravens offense from becoming more aggressive when needed?
In order to answer this question, you don't have to look much further than Baltimore's loss today at Gillette Stadium.
Baltimore took a seemingly comfortable 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, and it appeared the game was going as planned to a Ravens team looking to start the Regular Season 5-1 for the first time in franchise history.
A huge momentum shift began to build in favor of the Patriots as soon as the second half of the game got underway.
It all started when the Ravens offense was faced with fourth down and inches near midfield. Flacco emphatically signaled to coach John Harbaugh to keep the offense on the field. Harbaugh elected to punt the ball away, basically letting New England know he had no confidence in his offense to move the football a few inches.
Great coaches like Bill Belichick are able to hone in on those subtle messages — and from the third quarter onward, he did just that.
As most people expected, QB Tom Brady utilized short to intermediate passes to keep the tempo of the offense up. Third-year RB Danny Woodhead was a major factor in the short passing game, and the Ravens couldn't find a way to stop him.
Woodhead, who came from the New York Jets during the offseason, finished with 115 all-purpose yards.
The Ravens continued to stay conservative on offense through the beginning of the fourth quarter. Flacco was productive for the most part, finishing the day with 285 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Flacco and the Baltimore offense never tested the the Patriots secondary. The absence of the deep ball was evident throughout the game. Flacco completed only two passes over 20 yards. The majority of throws were short screens to RB Ray Rice.
Let's give some credit to the New England defense for playing solid coverage, but at some point you have to start taking shots down-field — you need to keep the defense honest. Apparently those pages were missing from Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron's playbook.
For Baltimore, a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter would suffice against most teams. This isn't the case when you're playing against one of the best quarterbacks to ever grace the field.
With no plan to change the play calling, the Ravens saw their 10-point lead dwindle late in the game, courtesy of a Deion Branch touchdown and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
The score was tied at 20-20 by the end of regulation, so both teams were headed to overtime.
Surely Baltimore would change their offensive philosophy in order to keep the ball out of Brady's hands, march down the field and come away with the win, right?
Despite winning the coin-toss, the Ravens just couldn't catch a break in overtime. Three of the Ravens nine punts came after the end of regulation, and the same conservative approach continued on offense.
Eventually Brady did what he does best — engineer a game-winning drive.
Gostkowski would end the game on a 35-yard field goal, leaving the Ravens stunned over blowing the lead they held for most of the game.
Revisiting the situation to punt the ball on third-and-short, it's always a tough call to make as a head coach. You're scrutinized if you don't convert, and demonized if the opponent scores points as a direct result of failing to convert fourth down.
This loss in general was a direct result of Flacco not having a long enough leash to get the job done. At some point, Harbaugh and Cameron need to cut the umbilical cord and let Flacco loose.
Towards the end of the game, Flacco was visibly upset on the sideline. His emotions clearly had to do with the conservative game plan overall, rather than one call on fourth down — although that didn't help the situation.
After three years, most Ravens fans figured the leash around Flacco would be long enough to allow him to operate at-will, especially facing an opponent with a weak pass defense.
To our disappointment, we found out this wasn't the case today in Foxboro, for some reason or another.
Flacco has all the talent of an elite quarterback. However, all the talent in the world proves worthless if you keep it bottled up.
Baltimore is a sure bet to make the postseason, and if advancing on to the Super Bowl is a priority for this team, Flacco needs the entire playbook at his disposal. In addition, more aggressive play calling in the passing game is an absolute must.
Given the history of this team, we can expect these problems to be resolved quickly, at every level of the organization. With Safety Ed Reed returning next week, we should see both our offense and defense improve. More turnovers will be generated, therefore taking some of the pressure off Flacco.
All of us learned two important things in today's loss. Both New England and Baltimore are the real deal, and will likely meet again in the Playoffs. It's just a matter of where and when.
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