- Don't look now, but the Baltimore Ravens have won four of their last five games and sit atop the AFC North. What inspired their offense outburst in Week 13?
A week ago, the Ravens nearly let a 16–3 halftime lead disintegrate against the Bengals, and afterward QB Joe Flacco was none too happy about it.
"When you have a team [down] 16–3, you would like to choke them out and get it over with," Flacco said, via The Baltimore Sun. "The type of game it was early on, I felt like we had the opportunity to put them away a little earlier than we did, and that is probably where I was coming from.”
Sunday, Flacco threw for 381 yards (eight shy of his career high) and four touchdowns before resting in the fourth quarter of a 38–6 rout of Miami, letting backup Ryan Mallett took a few snaps.
Was the offensive outburst a mere coincidence? The product of the matchup? Perhaps, especially in the latter case—Miami's defensive improvement has been integral to the team's now-expired six-game win streak, but it coughed up 475 yards to San Francisco before Baltimore ripped off 496 on Sunday.
More likely, though, is that Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg decided their best chance to bury the Dolphins wasn't by force-feeding the ground game but rather letting Flacco go to work.
It's an interesting development for a couple of reasons: 1) Baltimore canned former O.C. Marc Trestman and replaced him with Mornhinweg partly because the team was desperate to find missing offensive balance. The Dolphins entered Sunday ranked 30th against the run and had held just three opponents to fewer than 100 yards. If there was ever going to be a game the Ravens seemed destined to commit to their ground attack, this was it.
And 2) Flacco, frankly, hasn't been very good this year. That's not all on him—Steve Smith was banged up for a bit, the offensive line has had injuries and the struggling run game have left him in some tight spots. But this season has looked more like last year's disappointing (pre-injury) showing from Flacco than anyone in Baltimore would have preferred.
Then Week 13 rolled around. Flacco obliterated the Dolphins' defense from the outset, connecting on six passes for 72 yards during his team's opening drive, then following up by hitting five of seven attempts for 63 yards on the next possession. Both ended with TD passes, which staked the Ravens to a 14–3 edge. The number of combined runs in the first quarter? Two. One by Terrance West on the first scoring drive, one by Kenneth Dixon on the second.
The rest was Flacco and a scorching passing offense. Ten different Ravens caught passes from Flacco vs. Miami, with touchdowns coming from Dennis Pitta (who scored his first two TDs since 2013), Breshad Perriman and West. The Dolphins simply had no answers.
There also were very few of the prototypical Flacco downfield shots—the bombs into traffic he's used to great effect throughout his career. Perriman's 53-yard touchdown was a long catch and run, and no other pass connected for more than 25 yards. This wasn't Flacco forcing the ball deep, it was a veteran quarterback locking into a groove early and maintaining it throughout the afternoon.
For his part, Mornhinweg kept the foot on the gas, too. Even on Baltimore's failed opening possession of the second half, when it held a 24–0 lead, Flacco threw three straight times before a punt. The TD pass to Perriman happened early in the fourth quarter, after Miami had trimmed the lead to 24–6.
The win was Baltimore's fourth in five games, bumping its record to 7–5. With a Monday night trip to New England and a Christmas Day visit to Pittsburgh looming, the hot stretch was an absolute necessity if the Ravens planned to stay in the playoff picture. They'll head into that Patriots game still atop the AFC East.
Whether or not this win was a reset for the offense will be revealed in the next few weeks. The Ravens would love to feature a balanced attack, with a grind-it-out run game to complement their dominant run defense. They have not been able to find that offensive element yet, and the season has grown quite old.
Their more realistic shot of continuing to make noise could come with a game plan that looks like Sunday's. When the Ravens get an early jump and Flacco is playing well, Baltimore doesn't necessarily need its run game to put its opponents on ice.