By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
1:12 PM EDT, October 24, 2013
The Ravens have reached a crossroads seven games into the NFL season.
They've lost three of their past four games, including consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers by a total of five points.
Despite the setbacks for the defending Super Bowl champions and plenty of areas of concern, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has maintained his optimism.
"I'm not going to get into justifying or trying to explain," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "There are a lot of people out there that are never going to believe in anything. It doesn't really matter. The people that want to see us do well, they'll stay in our corner. And those are our fans. We love our fans. We're going to work hard.
"We've done it every year. You hit tough stretches every single year in football. There's no guarantee. This is tough. There's no guarantee this year. But, we have done pretty well over the last five years anytime we've hit a tough stretch, going back to work, dealing with the things we need to correct, overcoming adversity."
After posting winning records and reaching the playoffs in each of Harbaugh's five years as coach, the Ravens are the only defending Super Bowl champion with a losing record through seven games since the the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers.
They're ranked 21st in total offense (328.7), 28th in rushing offense (74.0) and 14th in passing (254.7)
They've rushed for only 518 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. They're on pace to finish the season with just 1,184 yards.
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has gained just 242 yards and is on pace to finish with only 553 rushing yards. He missed one game with a strained left hip flexor, but appears healthy now.
Defensively, they're in the middle of the pack as they're ranked 19th in total defense (343.0), 17th against the run (104.3) and 18th against the pass (238.7).
"It's a tough league," Harbaugh said. "We're right in the middle of the pack right now. So, we can either go down, stay the same or get better. We intend to get better. What we need to do is go win the next game, and then the game after that, and then the game after that, and then the game after that, and do our best and see how the chips fall when it's all said and done.
"But what makes me optimistic is I'm always optimistic, because I know how hard we work, I know what good people we have, coaches and players, and I really believe in where we’re going schematically."
The issues the Ravens are facing are numerous:
* Slow starts. They've scored only 13 points in the first quarter all season while outscoring opponents 63-33 in the fourth quarter
* The aforementioned sluggish running game.
* The run defense has faltered over the past two games, surrendering a total of 281 rushing yards during that span.
* The special teams has had two punts blocked, allowed a long return to Emmanuel Sanders last Sunday that led to the Steelers' game-winning field goal, and also botched an onsides kick attempt.
* The passing game hasn't clicked, especially on deep throws, as quarterback Joe Flacco has completed 59.5 percent of his throws overall for 1,917 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 78.9 passer rating. He ranks 23rd in rating among starting NFL quarterbacks.
* Flacco has been sacked 20 times this season, but was sacked a season-low once against the Steelers as new left tackle Eugene Monroe made his second start and had a strong performance.
"I think we understand how to solve problems," Harbaugh said. "And that's what football is, it's a problem-solving business. There always are problems. Everybody has them.
"And I'm very confident in our ability to solve problems, and I know we've got the people to do it. So, that's probably where it starts.”