John Harbaugh Identifies Four Keys To Offensive Improvement

The bye week isn't only about kicking back and enjoying some down time.

Head Coach John Harbaugh and his assistants spent the first part of the week digging into film for an introspective self-assessment of the first 10 games of the season. A top item on that priority list was looking at how to get the offense to perform more consistently.

After going through that review, Harbaugh identified the key areas where he expects to see improvement in the final six games of the season:

  1. Eliminating turnovers
  2. Third-down efficiency
  3. Capitalizing in red zone
  4. Hitting big plays

"We did crosschecks and things like that, all the things that we normally do in a bye week to try to understand how we've been calling games and how we've been trying to attack people," Harbaugh said.

The offense started the season on a tear and has been lights out at times, but they had some mishaps recently as they lost two of their final three games going into the bye. The Ravens currently rank 12th in the NFL in total offense (364.8 yards per game) and are tied for sixth in points per game (26.2).

Turnovers have generally been the common theme in the losses and games where the offense has struggled. In Baltimore's four losses this year, quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown five interceptions and the Ravens have lost four fumbles.

"The turnovers are where it starts," Harbaugh said. "You have to be aggressive and you have to make plays at the same time. You can't turn the ball over. You have to find a balance where the big plays outshadow the turnovers by a wide margin."

The Ravens cleaned up the turnovers in a Week 11 victory over the Titans, not allowing any in the 21-7 victory.

Carrying over that improvement will be critical down the stretch.

Almost as important as the turnovers is the need to improve third-down efficiency. The Ravens currently rank 22nd in the NFL with a 39.8 percent success rate at converting third downs, and they have specifically struggled in short-yardage situations. Baltimore ranks last in the league by converting just 52.4 percent of their third-and-1 situations. 

Against the Steelers in Week 9, the Ravens went just 3-of-13 on third-down attempts.

"Third down has been important for us," Harbaugh said. "You go back two weeks ago, if we convert on third down, we're a whole different offense up there in Pittsburgh, so that would've been big for us. And that's something over the last few weeks that has not always gone our way."

Inside the red zone, the Ravens have been hot and cold this season. The offense ranks 31st in the league in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line –* *seven touchdowns in 52 red-zone trips – and the Ravens have to capitalize once they get close to the goal line.

"Scoring touchdowns in the red zone, we've been up and down on that," Harbaugh said. "When we do that, we're pretty effective."

And a way that the Ravens can wipe away many of their other issues is by shortening drives because they hit on big plays. The Ravens were expected to improve in this area coming into the season, especially with the reputation of Gary Kubiak's play-action passing game and the arrival of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

But big plays have been elusive, and the Ravens are tied for 12th in the NFL with 40 plays longer than 20 yards. 

With Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, the Ravens have the weapons to pick up yardage in a hurry, and a focus is finding ways to connect on those opportunities down the field.

"We have a lot of playmakers," Harbaugh said. "We have really good playmakers pretty much at every position, and those guys want to make as many plays as they can. That, often times, is the difference."

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