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."