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John Harbaugh Defends Ravens' Passing Offense

November 15, 2017
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh disputed the notion expressed by former tight end Dennis Pitta last week that the Ravens' struggling offense is too reliant on checkdowns.

Speaking on WBAL Radio last week, Pitta, who spent four games as a color commentator for the Ravens this season after being sidelined by another major hip injury, said, "Right now, Joe [Flacco] has one read and then he's got to check it down if it's not there. That's really the offense they have set up for him. It's difficult to play quarterback under those circumstances." 

The Ravens (4-5) have the lowest-rated passing offense in the league, averaging 165.7 passing yards per game. Two other statistics suggest the Ravens' heavy reliance on checkdown passes: The Ravens rank last in the league in passing yards per play (4.56), and running back Buck Allen leads the team in receptions with 39. 

Speaking at his regular Wednesday news conference before practice Nov. 15, Harbaugh noted he had not heard Pitta's comments but that they had been relayed to him.  

"I can tell you this," Harbaugh said, "I've been in every single offensive meeting, and I know how the reads are built, and they're not one read, dump it down.

"Dennis called me last night, and we had a great talk. He explained what he was trying to say. … The difficulty when you're trying to explain how offensive systems are built, in a sentence, it's really hard to describe it, because it's just not that simple of a game.

"Our reads are complicated. They're the same reads that we've had. They're West Coast-style reads. They take into account many factors: rotation of the defense, coverage structure -- is it two-deep, is it three-deep, is it man, is it zone? What are the matchups? Are they pressed? Are they off? Those are all just off-the-top-of-my-head examples of what the quarterback's got to go through to decide where he's going to start his read progression. Then from there the read progression is always one through five if you get 'em all out. If you get four out, it's one through four, and the checkdown is part of that. Sometimes the checkdown might be two, most of the time it's three or four.

Harbaugh added: "I think [Pitta is] probably trying to, at some level, stick up for a friend."

Flacco is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career. After missing all of preseason nursing a back injury, he has thrown eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions and has a 72.7 passer rating, which ranks 31st, ahead of only rookies C.J. Beathard of the San Francisco 49ers and DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns.

"What is there to say about our offense right now?" Flacco said. "I think we all can see the obvious, when you go out there and watch the game on Sundays that we're not performing at the level we need to win football games." 

Pitta, meanwhile, backtracked somewhat on his criticism of the Ravens' offense in an appearance on WBAL Radio Nov. 14, saying, "I was a little critical of the offensive scheme last week. I think it was a little misconstrued what I was saying."

Pitta said that in some cases, receivers aren't getting open and Flacco is resorting to a checkdown to Allen or someone else.

"Joe's having to check the ball down a lot and he's being criticized for that," Pitta told WBAL's Brett Hollander. "But that's the right decision in those cases."

NOTEBOOK:

NEARLY FULL ROSTER AT PRACTICE: Coming off the bye week, the Ravens had nearly the entire team on the practice field Nov. 15. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) was the lone player absent during the portion of practice open to the media, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was wearing a red noncontact vest. Running back Terrance West (calf), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and safety Chuck Clark (thigh), all of whom were ruled out for the Week 9 game against the Tennessee Titans, all were back at practice, as was tight end Nick Boyle (toe), who was sidelined against the Titans as well. 

Running back Danny Woodhead, who is on injured reserve, also practiced. He is eligible to return from IR Nov. 19, when the Ravens visit the Green Bay Packers. 

FULLBACK ORTIZ REJOINS PRACTICE SQUAD: The Ravens re-signed fullback Ricky Ortiz to the practice squad Nov. 14 and released practice squad offensive lineman Jason King. Ortiz, an undrafted rookie out of Oregon State, was with the Ravens in training camp. After being released in the final cutdown to 53 players at the end of training camp, Ortiz was on the practice squad for four weeks before being released with an injury settlement in early October.

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka    

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox