Ravens seek cure for inconsistent offense

With three weeks left before the start of the regular season,

the Baltimore Ravens are still searching for production and

consistency from their first-team offense.

The starting unit produced only three first downs and 13 yards

rushing Thursday night in a preseason game against Atlanta. A

77-yard pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith was the lone highlight

from an offense that last season was the strength of the Super Bowl

champions.

Baltimore(2-0) beat the Falcons 27-23 after the backups scored

20 points in the fourth quarter. The victory, however, did not

erase the fact that only one of six drives with Flacco on the field

lasted more than three plays.

”We were sloppy, and we didn’t run a lot of plays because of

that,” Flacco said. ”We were just unable to get into a rhythm.

You love the one-play touchdown drives, but at the same time, it

would have been nice to get a little bit of a rhythm.”

Getting running back Ray Rice on track would have helped. Rice

gained 10 yards on eight carries, with eight of those yards coming

on one attempt.

”We definitely need to get better, but it’s the preseason. All

32 teams are working on things,” Rice said. ”We’re just trying to

execute and get better week-by-week.”

Granted, the Ravens were without Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda,

who only recently returned to practice after undergoing offseason

shoulder surgery. Backup running back Bernard Pierce (knee) was

also absent, as was newly signed tight end Dallas Clark. In

addition, newcomer Brandon Stokley got in for only a few plays as

he continues to get acclimated to the offense.

Against Atlanta, however, the offense’s problems began on the

second play when center A.Q. Shipley – who’s fighting for the

starting job against Gino Gradkowski – received a 15-yard penalty

for a hands-to-the-facemask violation.

The second series was the Smith touchdown, and the third series

was three Rice runs and a punt. That set the tone for a long

night.

”It wasn’t great fundamental football, by any stretch,” coach

John Harbaugh said. ”We didn’t run block real well, so we couldn’t

get the run game going. Then, the penalties and field position

really hurt us. If you don’t get the first first down, I’m not sure

how you’re ever going to get rhythm, and we were never really able

to get the first first down early on.”

There’s no reason to panic – yet. The team will have another

week of practice before taking on Carolina at home next Thursday

night.

”We’re going to go back out there and put a lot of good work

in,” Flacco said. ”That’s what we’re going to do, and it’s going

to go well. That’s how we’re used to doing it.”

The Carolina game will be important because the starters will

play into the third quarter and probably won’t participate in the

preseason finale at St. Louis. It will likely be the last chance

for the offense to iron out its problems and for Shipley and

Gradkowski to show their skills in the duel to replace the retired

Matt Birk.

Shipley acknowledged that his penalty set the tone for what

followed.

”Part of it was my penalty on the first play. It started us off

pretty bad,” he said. ”We couldn’t get ourselves in a rhythm. We

have to play better.”

That seemed to be the sentiment after a victory that really

didn’t feel like one.

”We kind of beat ourselves with penalties and certain miscues,

and it’s tough to play from behind,” Smith said. ”When you’re not

playing many plays it’s tough to recover from that, but we’ll be

fine. We know what the mistakes were that we made, and you can’t

make penalties, so obviously we need to correct that.”