The Ravens offense heads into the playoffs with a fix-it list.
Quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense sprinted from behind with 17 fourth-quarter points to beat the Cleveland Browns and get into the postseason, but the unit has trudged along for the past three games.
Facing Pittsburgh's potent, No. 2-ranked offense this Saturday, Baltimore's offense likely can't afford another sluggish performance.
On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked if he was concerned specifically about the team's recent slow starts. But there's more to it than that.
"Yes," he said. "Slow starts, third downs, touchdowns in the red zone – those are all things that, offensively, when you play anybody – especially when you play Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh – those are things you really need to do well, and we need to do better at those things if we expect to come out of there with a victory."
The Ravens finished the season with four straight games without scoring any points in the first quarter. On their first offensive series last week, they had a false start, dropped pass and fumbled snap.
Flacco knows the Ravens can't come out of the gates in a similar way.
"A three-and-out definitely energizes them, and usually it carries over to the next series," Flacco said. "So, the biggest thing we have to do is move the ball early and get into the flow of the game."
Baltimore had four drives in the first quarter. Three produced just 21 yards combined and three quick punts. The other was a well-crafted 11-play, 55-yard drive that was stuffed without any points on three plays from the 1-yard line.
That's other problem – scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
Kicker Justin Tucker has been booting too many chip shots recently. He hit from 25 and 28 yards against Cleveland, and had 22 and 33-yarders against Jacksonville in Week 15. He had four field goals, all under 35 yards, against the Chargers in Week 13, which made the difference in a 34-33 loss.
The Ravens lost some of their power running in the red zone when big-bodied rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was sent to injured reserve after the Miami game. Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce haven't been as effective in jumbo formations.
Baltimore has also had trouble converting on third down in recent games. The Ravens were 4-for-13 Sunday against Cleveland and 8-for-27 over the two previous games. That's a 30 percent success rate when the season average was 41 percent.
The Ravens are built on putting themselves in manageable third-down situations and converting, but without much success on first and second down, that's been a challenge recently.
During Sunday's game against Cleveland, Flacco told Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak during a bench huddle that he felt they needed to try to pick up more big-chunk gains rather than expecting to be perfect moving down the field.
At this point of the season, Flacco doesn't see a quick fix to the offensive problems as they head into the playoffs.
"Obviously, it's something we need to address and fix and make sure it doesn't happen," Flacco said Tuesday. "But I think the biggest thing is just to go out there and be aggressive and do the things that we do well and make the plays when they're presented to us and just play fundamental. At this point, you can't have it be too big of a concern."
When the Ravens offense heated up last Sunday, it was because it started taking shots earlier in downs. Flacco hit Steve Smith Sr. for a 10-yard gain, then took a deep shot to Torrey Smith, which drew a holding penalty. He then drove a pass to Kamar Aiken for 11 yards on the next play.
That opened up the middle of the field for a crossing route by tight end Owen Daniels, who caught it and ran for 39 yards. Suddenly, the offense was chugging.
The flood gates opened with the 53-yard bomb to Torrey Smith, which set up his 16-yard touchdown to give Baltimore the lead for good.
But Flacco says the momentum gained from the end of that game doesn't necessarily transfer over to Saturday's game in Pittsburgh.
"Every game is so separate," he said. "It's a new team, new system. We have to make sure we're ready for it and just go out there and be excited. It's going to be a tough place to go into and not be up and be ready from the very first snap."
At the end of the day, the Ravens know it's not always going to look pretty. They just have to find ways to win, even when the game starts to slip away.
Baltimore got off to a fast start last time in Pittsburgh, and held a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Ravens had the ball near midfield, poised to score again, when the momentum shifted on a Taliaferro fumble. The Steelers rode that swing to a 20-point victory.
"You don't want to put yourself in a hole. You have to play better," Steve Smith Sr. said.
"But at the same time, it's the playoffs. Anything happens, and everything happens. We just have to play ball, and we have to play better, and we have to make more plays than them. And hopefully, at the end of the game, we have more on the scoreboard than they do."