OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco expressed continued confidence in wide receiver Michael Crabtree, whose first five games with the Ravens have been marred by drops, including a potential touchdown grab in the final minute of regulation during the Ravens' 12-9 loss to the Cleveland Browns Oct. 7.
Crabtree, who was signed to a three-year, $21 million deal this offseason as a centerpiece of the Ravens' revamped passing game, has a team-high 24 catches for 250 yards, but he also has a league-high six drops, according to STATS LLC.
"I'm still going his way when it calls for it," Flacco said at his weekly media session Oct. 10 as the Ravens (3-2) prepared for their Week 6 game against the Tennessee Titans. "I still believe that that's going to be the difference."
"Mike's got great hands," Flacco added. "When you see him out here [on the practice field], he's got … one of the surest pair of hands I've ever seen, so it's just about relaxing, letting the game come to you, not trying to do too much."
Crabtree did not meet with the media Oct. 10, but after the loss to the Browns, he was critical of his own play, saying that he had to "get back to the lab and get back to the basics."
Flacco said Crabtree approached him on the team flight after the loss to the Browns to discuss the drops, and "I just smiled and said, 'Listen, it's not always going to be this way.' "
"We're a very prideful group, he's a very prideful person, and he works really hard at what he does," Flacco added. "So that's not the issue. If that was the issue, then it might need to be addressed, but that's not it, so it's just something that we have to overcome together."
Receiver John Brown, who leads the Ravens with 396 receiving yards, said that as a wide receiver he can empathize with Crabtree, and like Flacco, he also expressed confidence in the 10-year veteran.
"You just gotta come back and make a play," Brown said. "We all go through stuff at times. I'm sure Crabtree is going to get it right."
PIERCE, AVERETT REMAIN SIDELINED: Defensive lineman Michael Pierce (foot), cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) were not present during the media portion of the Ravens' practice. Others absent included Brown, cornerback Brandon Carr, safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Terrell Suggs, but they could have been receiving a veteran day off.
BROWN AS A PUNT RETURNER?: The Ravens have shuffled punt returners again, re-signing Cyrus Jones and cutting Tim White, who cleared waivers and was brought back to the practice squad. But coach John Harbaugh said Brown could also get a look as a punt returner. The Ravens have already cycled through two punt returners, with Janarion Grant and White each earning the job, then losing it in large part because of fumbles.
Brown was an outstanding return specialist at Pittsburg State, with five return touchdowns (three punt, two kickoff). His only NFL return experience came with Arizona in 2016 when he had 17 punt returns for an average of 7.0 yards and one kick return for 51 yards.
Brown said he volunteered to take reps at punt returner, saying, "That's exactly something I would want to do."
Brown pointed out that he is increasingly seeing double coverage on offense and, "If teams plan on doubling me and trying to take me out of the game, I'm going to find a way to put the ball in my hands."
COLLINS PREACHES PATIENCE WITH RUN GAME: Running back Alex Collins stressed the Ravens need to remain patient and committed to a running game that ranks 25th in the league overall (94.4 yards a game) and 30th in yards per carry (3.4).
Collins, who gained 973 yards during 15 games last season, leads the Ravens with 217 yards through five games, which puts him on pace for 694 yards.
After recording a pair of 100-yard rushing games last year, Collins has yet to top 70 yards in a game this season. But he said the Ravens frequently have been "one little mistake away" from a big gain.
Collins said the overriding theme has been patience.
"Keep sticking with it," he said. "Just stay with the run game and don't give up on it, keep pressing and keep hitting it the same way we've been doing, because it's going to open up."
FLACCO: BEST RUN-PASS RATIOS IS WHATEVER WORKS: The Ravens have faced some scrutiny for a play calling ratio against the Browns that featured 25 rushes and 59 pass plays (57 passes, two sacks) in a three-point game, but Flacco -- much like Harbaugh two days earlier -- dismissed concerns about any imbalance.
Speaking the day after the loss, Harbaugh had said, "This run-pass balance thing, I don't understand why it's a topic."
Flacco suggested that the run-pass distribution is usually dictated by the game plan.
"The optimum pass attempts and run attempts are really whatever the hell gets you the win," Flacco said. "Completions are very important. Yards per play in run and pass game are very important. Those are the things that matter."
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