Reporting Mark Zinno
The NFL is a game of adjustments. Not only week to week, but half to half and even series to series. The head coaches in this league, who learn from past failures and quickly correct them, are the ones who are usually the most successful and win the most games. John Harbaugh, learned from the Ravens loss to the Bills in Week 4 where quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back 55 times, including 31 consecutive pass plays. He learned that you won’t win many games that way. So the adjustment was simple. Stick with the run. And Harbaugh did. And it worked. And the Ravens beat the Dolphins 26-23.
At halftime of the Bills game, the Ravens rushing attack was feeble. They had just seven carries for 15 yards and a 2.1-yard per carry average. Harbaugh said after the game that it was his decision to abandon the run and he didn’t second-guess himself. After 30 minutes against Miami, the Ravens rushing attack wasn’t much better than the week prior – 15 carries for 33 yards and a 2.2-yard per carry average. What was the difference? Harbaugh wouldn’t say much other than, “I thought we could be successful at it in the second half, whereas last week I did not think we would be successful at it in the second half the way we were blocking.” When pressed further by the media, “We blocked better,” Harbaugh said.
Whatever the reason, the run game was the ultimate difference in the Ravens victory. That, and Joe Flacco playing a game that won’t impress anyone in the stat sheet, but has certainly shown why he’s won a lot of games in the NFL. He stood tall, took a lot of hits, withstood the pressure and never panicked as he guided the team to a much-needed win. Harbaugh wasn’t so tight-lipped about Flacco. “I think that’s part of Joe’s greatness. You look around the league and you’ll see a lot of quarterbacks not doing those things. Not standing in there the way he stands in there,” Harbaugh said.
Therein lies the other impact of the run game, saving Joe Flacco’s health. I haven’t seen the former Super Bowl MVP take this kind of abuse in his entire career. If the run blocking was better, the pass blocking was not. After spending $120 million on Flacco, the Ravens better find a way to keep him upright. That’s just one of the many things the Ravens need to work through. That’s not a bad thing. Every team that isn’t 5-0 or 4-1 is probably struggling to figure out who they are and shore up some weaknesses. Thankfully for the Ravens and their fans, the defending Super Bowl champs have a great pedigree, a solid front office and a head coach who understands what adjustments are all about. And that may be the biggest difference of all.
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