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After struggling vs. Packers, Ravens' matchup with Steelers looms

By Peter Schmuck

The Baltimore Sun

5:48 PM EDT, October 13, 2013

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The case can be made that there is no shame in losing a game by two points to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but it would to be hard to find a good lawyer to argue it.

The Ravens simply did not show up in the first half Sunday. They were shut down and shut out through the first two quarters and would have been blown out if not for a solid all-around performance by the defense.

Let me count the ways.

The Ravens have talked for weeks about running the ball effectively, but they averaged just 1.6 yards in their 13 rush plays before halftime. They have a long-standing reputation for creating turnovers and exploiting them, but the Packers put the ball on the ground three times in the first half and the Ravens recovered it just once and generated no turnover-related points. And that one recovery came off a Packers punt block.

Ouch.

John Harbaugh did not sugarcoat anything afterward, but he did say that the coaching staff would not panic because of his team’s continuing offensive line issues or the fact that the Ravens are now 3-3 and in second place in the AFC North with three straight division games dead ahead. That’s fine, because this is the NFL and anything can happen at any time, but there are definitely some areas of major concern as the Ravens get ready to face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field next week.

“I think we just need to continue to get better,’’ Harbaugh said after the game. “We’ve got the right people. We’re doing the right things. The thing that we’re not going to do is overreact. You don’t go in there and make any kind of major adjustments when you know you’re doing things well, and you’ve got the people to do it. We’re a work in progress, no doubt about it.

“We would have loved to have won this game. We had a chance to do it in the end and we didn’t get it done. They did. Give them credit. It’s going to be a long season, and we’ve got plenty of opportunities going forward to become the team we think we can be, and we’re working towards that right now.”

That’s exactly what you should expect him to say after a game like that, though it’s fair to wonder how it would have played if the Ravens hadn’t scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the game close. Those two TDs were comforting, but you have to figure that the Packers let out some defensive slack when they entered the final period with a 16-3 lead.

It came down again to the lack of any kind of offensive balance. The Ravens tried to run the ball, but they did not have enough success to keep the pressure off Joe Flacco. He tried to say afterward that he had enough room to work back there, but he was sacked five times and fumbled twice -- one of those fumbles leading to a last-second field goal in the first half that turned out to be pretty important.

“We’ve just got to execute at a high level,’’ said running back Ray Rice, who had 34 of the Ravens’ meager total of 47 rushing yards in the game. “We would love to run the ball better. It’s not something that you plan on -- going out there and messing up. The run game has to get better. We’ll just keep sawing at it and get ready for next week.”

Next week suddenly looms fairly large, even though the Steelers are having rough time of it themselves. They finally got into the win column Sunday with a 19-6 victory over the New York Jets and will have plenty of motivation to bring it against their chief division rival.

It will be a game both teams badly need, even at this early juncture in the season. The season was starting to get away from the Steelers when they headed to New York this weekend, but they took advantage of their bye week to regain their footing and stifled rookie Geno Smith, intercepting him twice and holding him to a 48.8 QB rating. If the Ravens don’t get some things straightened out on offense, they’re going to do the same thing to Flacco next week.