OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens have identified the long list of problems that have contributed to their poor start.
Their task now is to correct those flaws before it’s too late to salvage what has become a trying season for the defending Super Bowl champions.
After losing two of three — including Sunday’s 19-17 defeat at home against Green Bay — the Ravens at .500 after six games for the first time since 2009. Their running game is ineffective, they’re having trouble protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, they’re starting slowly in games and struggling on first and second downs.
Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the issues on Monday.
“There are plenty of specific things that we need to do differently, or we need to do better,” he said. “We’re going to find our way into our run game. This is a process; we’re fairly early on. I would have sure liked for it to happen sooner. Thought it would. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep going after it. And that’s not just the run game. It’s everything we do, all three phases.”
The biggest and most perplexing problem is Baltimore’s inability to gain yardage on the ground. The Ravens could muster only 47 yards rushing against the Packers and have eclipsed 100 yards only once.
“Nothing’s simple, but it can be fixed and we have the guys that can do it,” Harbaugh said. “I feel strongly about our offensive line. I think we’ve got the men for the job.”
The run game against Green Bay wasn’t as bad as it was at Buffalo in Week 4, when Baltimore attempted a franchise-record low nine rushes for 24 yards. But of the Ravens’ 22 carries on Sunday, five went for losses and five others resulted in no gain. Most notably, Baltimore was stuffed on four straight runs in the second quarter after getting a first-and-goal at the 4.
“We had too many negative plays in the run,” Harbaugh said. “We had some mental mistakes, some errors. That cost us.”
In the season opener, the problem was a defense that Peyton Manning riddled for seven touchdown passes in a 49-22 Denver victory. Since then, Baltimore’s offense has been the team’s most glaring weakness.
The Ravens are averaging 4.55 yards on first down, a figure that’s better than only Miami, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. Against the Packers, Baltimore converted only two of 14 third downs, in part because the average yardage needed was 11.214 yards.
“Getting more yards in the run game would be big. That would help us a lot,” Harbaugh said. “We sure expect to do better with the run game and we need to. You can’t consistently run for two yards a carry and be what you want to be as an offense. We need to do a better job of passing on first down, too. Early downs have not been good to us.”
During their Super Bowl run, the Ravens could count on Ray Rice to pick up some solid yardage on the ground on first down. This year, however, Rice hasn’t run for more than 74 yards in a game and three times has been held under 40 yards.
That makes it difficult to be creative on first down.
“I always feel like we can mix it up a little bit more on first and second down just to get everybody going,” Flacco said. “It’s tough to say that when we’re just not running the ball up to the ability that we think we should run it. If we were running the ball better, we wouldn’t be talking about it. We’re just not getting the yardage and the creases that we need right now in that part, and we’re kind of unsuccessful at a lot of other things we do just because of that.”
The passing game has been inconsistent, mainly because Flacco has been throwing under pressure. He was sacked five times on Sunday and has been collared behind the line 19 times thus far.
There’s also the problem of starting slowly. The Ravens were blanked in the first half by Green Bay and also went scoreless before halftime against Cleveland earlier this season. Baltimore has been outscored 68-47 in the first half overall.
“We need to start faster,” Harbaugh said. “We’d love to start with a lead and try to build on that. We haven’t done that as often as we need to.”
Baltimore faces division rival Pittsburgh (1-4) this Sunday.
“We’ll try to be at our best when our best is needed,” Harbaugh said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)