Can Ravens win with Joe Flacco throwing 700 passes this year?

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco bluntly weighed in on this year's pass-happy game plan, which has been the hot topic surrounding the team this week.

"The optimum pass attempts and run attempts are really whatever the hell gets you the win," Flacco said Wednesday.

Flacco is on pace to throw 726 passes this season, which is one shy of the NFL single-season record set by Matthew Stafford in 2012. The Ravens are 3-2 and one game back of the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North, but league history and Flacco's track record suggest that Baltimore can't win with Flacco averaging 45 throws per game.

Flacco has a record of 8-22 (.266) when passing 45 or more times in a game. Over the past five years, only 10 quarterbacks have reached the postseason after finishing the season in the top five in pass attempts.

"Sometimes you don’t even realize until you look up at the end that you’ve thrown that many times," Flacco said. "In this day and age, 40 pass attempts is almost normal."

Seven quarterbacks have averaged more than 40 attempts in the first five weeks of the season. Only Andrew Luck has thrown more times than Flacco. Flacco has tossed 37 more passes than Drew Brees and 48 more than Tom Brady.

This is a departure from the formula for success under coach John Harbaugh. In five of its past six playoff seasons, Baltimore ranked in the top 12 in rushing.

The questioning of the Ravens' offensive strategy peaked after Sunday's 12-9 overtime loss in Cleveland. Flacco threw 56 passes, and the Baltimore running backs received 20 attempts despite averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

"We just need to put more points on the board," Harbaugh said. "Nine points, it is tough to win games that way. That’s the bottom line. But this run-pass balance thing, I don’t understand why it’s a topic."

The Ravens rank 10th in the NFL in rush attempts per game (27.8), but this is a passing team. Baltimore is throwing the ball on 64 percent of its plays. In comparison, the Ravens passed 57 percent of the time last season.

The offensive identity was essentially summed up after the Ravens' Week 3 victory over Denver, when Harbaugh said, "Just let Marty be Marty. Let it rip." Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg built a reputation over the past two decades for throwing the ball and throwing it deep.

Do the Ravens feel they are a pass-first offense now?

"To be honest, I don't look at it that way," guard Marshal Yanda said. "The play that's called on Sunday is the one where you have to execute to the best of your ability. [The outside talk] is just a distraction. We're going to roll with the plays that are called."

League-leading dropped passes

The Ravens would be more successful with this pass-oriented game plan if their receivers caught it more frequently.

Baltimore leads the NFL with 15 dropped passes, which is nearly twice as many as its touchdown catches (eight). Michael Crabtree has nearly half of those, with a league-worst seven drops, two more than anyone else in the NFL.

Last Sunday, Crabtree dropped three passes and let a potential winning touchdown pass bounce off his hands. During the flight back from Cleveland, Crabtree came up to Flacco to talk about his struggles.

"I just smiled and said, ‘Listen, I know it’s not always going to be this way,'" Flacco said. "Mike has great hands. When you see him out here catching, he has one of the surest pair of hands I’ve ever seen. It’s just about relaxing, letting the game come to you, not trying to do too much. It’s something that he’ll definitely get over."

Crabtree spent time after Wednesday's practice catching passes from Flacco, according to the Ravens. He then went to the Jugs machine to catch more balls.

"Michael Crabtree is a pro. He’s been here before," Harbaugh said. "He’s had these kinds of situations before. He’s a stand-up guy."

Run game disappearance

The Ravens have relied more on the pass this season because their running game has yet to get on track.

Baltimore is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, which is third-worst in the NFL. It has been a combination of poor run-blocking and the inability of Alex Collins and Buck Allen to break tackles. The Ravens rank in the bottom 10 in both average yards before first contact and average yards after it.

"Yes, we’re concerned. We want to run the ball well," Harbaugh said. "We’re working as hard as we can to do it. That’s why the answers are the same every week -- and the questions are the same every week -- but the answers aren’t going to change. That’s what it is."

Baltimore can't really run the ball on both first and second down because it would result in third-and-long. This season, the Ravens have 12 runs of 10 or more yards and 33 runs on which they've been held for no gain or negative yardage.

Is it difficult to keep faith and patience with the run game?

"It’s actually not difficult at all when you want to be successful, and you know that’s what it takes, especially as a running back myself," Collins said. "You start wanting to get through the hole. You want to score a touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, but you have to be patient behind the offensive line, and that’s just what we look for with the running game, and moving forward is just being patient and trusting the scheme."

Until the Ravens can get that production from the running game, they probably will keep putting the ball in the hands of Flacco.

"You come up with the game plan throughout the course of the week, and you go out there, and you just do it," Flacco said. "As a player, that’s what you do. Then when you look up at the end of the game, it is what it is."