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Key For Ravens Offense? Fast Starts

Posted Oct 17, 2013

The Ravens have to perform better on first downs and in the first half. The quick passing game can help.

John Harbaugh has been grilled by reporters this week about the state of the team’s offense. The unit currently ranks 22nd in the NFL in total yardage and has topped 100 rushing yards just once this season.

As Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco answered questions about fixing the early season woes, they kept coming back to a central theme: Starting faster – both on drives and in games.

“We need to start faster,” Harbaugh said. “We’d love to start with the lead and try to build on that. We haven’t done that as often as we need to.”

After scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of the season opener in Denver, the offense has put up just three first-quarter points in the last five games. The unit has taken until the second half of most games to heat up, as the group ranks 27th in first-half scoring.

First down has also been a problem.

Of the offense’s 177 first-down plays this season, 114 of them have gone for fewer than four yards. The Ravens rank last in the NFL in the percentage of first-down plays (35.6 percent) gaining at least four yards. The lack of success on first down has led to problems on second and third downs.

“We’ve just got to execute better and be better on first down so we’re not constantly digging ourselves out of holes,” Flacco said.

Here is a closer look at the Ravens’ struggles on early downs:

Category

Stats

NFL Rank

1st-Down plays gaining 4+ yards

63 of 177 (35.6%)

32nd

2nd-Down and average yards to gain

8.77 yards

30th

3rd-Down plays facing 10+ yards to gain

36 plays

32nd

 

In last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Ravens had just two situations the entire game where they faced second down with less than five yards to gain.

“When you do that to yourselves, you’re not going to score points,” Flacco said.

The slow starts are not the result of one specific problem, but a collection of issues. Penalties and struggles in the run game are two of the biggest culprits.  The Ravens are tied with the most false starts (10) in the NFL, and they also rank 27th in the NFL in rushing offense.

“I think it’s collective,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all of that. We have to look at every aspect of it. It all goes together.”

At the start of the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, the Ravens had four false start penalties and just three points. In one possession, the Ravens had back-to-back false starts called.

“That has to stop,” tight end Ed Dickson said. “We can’t put ourselves in those positions by making mistakes, jumping offsides, getting penalties and backing ourselves up.”

In addition to cleaning up the penalties and establishing the run, which have both been a point of emphasis this week, Flacco also talked about the quick passing game. When the offense got into a rhythm Sunday against the Packers, Flacco was able to move the chains with short passes to his receivers and tight ends.

The intermediate passes ended up as big gains when tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Marlon Brown broke tackles and turned upfield.

“We just ran some quick routes,” Flacco said. “We ran a couple quick outs. We hit Dallas on a couple, we hit Marlon on a quick hook – stuff like that just to get the ball in your playmakers’ hands and let them do work with it afterwards.”

As the run game has struggled, the Ravens have found some success in the passing game this year and Flacco has averaged 263 passing yards a game. To help establish more success on early downs, the Ravens could turn to him and the quick- strike offense to find success.

“It doesn’t have to be a home run every time,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Six yards is huge for us. I think the biggest thing is we need to stop playing behind the count in terms of our down yardage. … We have the quarterback and the receivers to do it, so we’ll see what happens.”

Whatever approach the Ravens take to start faster and move the chains on early downs, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens will make some adjustments heading into this week’s key divisional matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“We have to look at every aspect of it,” Harbaugh said. “It all goes together. You can’t just keep doing the same exact thing, and you can’t keep doing whatever you’re doing the same way. We have to change all that.”

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