While the Ravens’ players are clearly frustrated by their recent inability to finish strong, they are more mystified by their tendency to start slow.
The Ravens have watched the opposition score first in six of their eight games this season and they haven’t had a lead at any point over their last three contests, all losses. Asked to explain the disturbing trend this week, the Ravens’ players have offered little more than shoulder shrugs.
“If we knew, it wouldn’t be happening,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said matter-of-factly.
But it’s become enough of an issue for head John Harbaugh to address the matter with his team at the end of Wednesday morning’s walk-through practice. With the Ravens preparing for an AFC North clash against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Harbaugh knows that another slow start could be disastrous for his struggling team.
“We need to start faster,” Harbaugh said. “Let’s come out of the gates. Let’s find a way to get a lead. We have not been able to do that. Let’s find a way to do that with how we practice and how we prepare.”
In 480 minutes of football this season, the Ravens have held a lead for just under 99 minutes, which equates to approximately 20 percent of the time. They last enjoyed a lead on Oct. 6 in a victory over the
Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, they’ve trailed for 289 of 480 minutes or 60 percent of the time.
Teams have gotten on top of the reigning Super Bowl champions early and held them off late. In their eight games this season, the Ravens have been outscored 32-16 in the first quarter and 60-47 in the second. They’ve faced halftime deficits in their past five games. Four times this year, the Ravens haven’t scored any points in the fourth quarter and twice, they’ve gotten shut out for the entire half.
“I’m seeing us not get first downs,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who has led just one first-quarter touchdown drive this season and that was all the way back in Week One. “We’re just not good enough at converting and putting ourselves in situations where we’re fighting a battle that we can win consistently. We’re putting ourselves in situations that are tough and are uphill. We usually come out into the second half and start it pretty well there, but it just taking us a while to get going early on.”
The slow offensive starts has prompted the Ravens and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to look at the play calling, specifically how he scripts a certain number of plays heading into the game.
“It’s not a one-person thing,” Caldwell said. “It’s across the board. We just haven’t been clicking on all cylinders right at the onset, and that’s something John keeps pounding home. You try and make certain
that when we go out to practice, we try to start the practice fast, start it with intent and minimize mistakes – all those things. We have to keep working on it. But it’s not good right now – it hasn’t been.”