OWINGS MILLS — Following Baltimore’s 22-17 loss to Seattle, coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have taken plenty of criticism for their offensive gameplan that limited running back Ray Rice to just five carries in 60 minutes.
Parallels were drawn to the Jacksonville game, when Rice received only eight carries in a 12-7 loss. Following the Jaguars loss, Harbaugh admitted he should have gotten Rice the ball more.
That wasn’t the case following the Seattle game.
Harbaugh defended his and Cameron’s decision to put the game solely in quarterback Joe Flacco’s hands. He may have a point from a coaching standpoint. Harbaugh said the runs simply weren’t there, that Seattle made it a point to make Rice and Ricky Williams irrelevant on offense.
Harbaugh’s point is you take what the defense is giving you, which was the pass in this instance.
The counterargument is that Baltimore’s offensive line has shown it can run the ball effectively. Even though the Ravens were behind in the first half, there was plenty of time to keep running the ball, which could later soften Seattle’s defense for a big play. Plus, Seattle’s defense hasn’t stopped many running games this season. How could it stop Rice at this junction?
“Based on some fronts they were giving us early we felt we had to throw it,” Harbaugh said.
In football, you make a decision and ride with it. And it wasn’t like the Ravens’ offense was put in bad situations with this gameplan. Receivers dropped balls and Flacco misfired on a few throws.
Flacco was forced to check the ball down a bunch as Seattle brought pressure while playing deep coverage over the top. On TV, it looks like Flacco and the offense were out of sync, which wasn’t necessarily true.
Seattle came up with a good defensive scheme Sunday. Baltimore tried to counter it.
While coaching football is akin to — cliche alert — a game of chess, sometimes a team can be better off matching its best against the opposition’s best, a la Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Vince Lombardi and George Halas.
With that stated, the Ravens’ coaching staff would’ve been criticized either way. If Harbaugh and Cameron stuck with the run and were forced into three-and-outs the critics would scream, “Why didn’t you pass the ball sooner?” By going to the pass early in a confounding loss, those same folks yell, “You can’t give Ray Rice only five carries?”
Now, it’s hard to justify giving someone of Rice’s caliber five carries. That’s something that will clearly be assessed this week in meetings.
But the game ultimately wasn’t lost on offense. If there’s an area that deserves blame, it’s special teams. Wide receiver/kick returner David Reed’s two lost fumbles on kick returns turned into six Seattle points. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed two field goals from over 50 yards out (he’s now 1-6 on field goals from this range). Those kicks would’ve equaled six points. The Ravens lost by five.
The turnovers (plus a Flacco interception that can be chalked up to a great defensive play) gave Seattle a lopsided advantage in time of possession. You’re not going to win many games holding the ball for only 25 minutes.
There are definitely two sides to Baltimore’s decision to stop running the ball. And both sides have strong arguments. For those against the decision, Harbaugh isn’t willing to concede his reasoning anytime soon — whether it’s right or wrong.
“When you don’t have many plays it’s hard to build a running game,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re down you have to throw it to get back in the game.”
By Jason Butt