Harbaugh: 3-0 mark is good but not enough
something we need to do. We need to play better and better football.”
The Ravens are 3-0 for the third time in franchise history. The 2006 squad won its first four games but fell short of a 5-0 start in a 13-3 loss at the Denver Broncos. In 2009, the Ravens won their first three games but lost the following three. Both those teams made the playoffs.
However you perceive their play through three weeks this year, it appears the Ravens are on the right side of recent history. According to figures provided by the NFL, 75.6 percent of the teams (99 of 131) that won their first three games since 1990 have qualified for the playoffs. And in the past 10 years, 74.4 percent of the teams (32 of 43) that started 3-0 made the postseason.
Those numbers might provide some assurance, but they aren’t insurance for the future, Harbaugh noted.
“Not really, because they won another seven or eight or nine games, and we’re going to have to do that to make the playoffs,” he said. “So our concern needs to be win those other games. We talk about stacking. We want to stack good meetings, good practices, good weightlifting sessions. We want to stack wins, and that’s really the task at hand.”
There are certainly areas the team must address before Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders (2-1) at M&T Bank Stadium.
Only six offenses have posted fewer rushing yards per game than the Ravens’ 82.3. And the unit’s lone rushing touchdown has come from quarterback Joe Flacco, not running backs Justin Forsett or Terrance West.
The sight of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon running sprints on an empty practice field Friday might inject some hope that the run game can be revived by the fourth-round pick, who led the team in rushing in the preseason before sustaining a strained MCL in his left knee against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 27. But it’s difficult to imagine that one player could overhaul an entire unit.
The absence of a consistent ground game has forced the offense to rely on Flacco, who is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the Raiders’ Derek Carr and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Alex Smith for seventh in the league in passes per game at 39.3. At this rate, Flacco is on pace to eclipse his previous career high of 614 attempts set in 2013.
Harbaugh acknowledged that the passing attack needs more support from the rushing offense.
“We have to run the ball effectively,” he said, preferring quality (yards gained) over quantity (runpass ratio). “We’ve got to be able to run the ball for some chunk yards. We’ve got to pop some runs, we’ve got to force people to defend the run because that opens up the passing game. We’re not doing that as well as we want to do it right now.”
The team has won despite scoring just one touchdown apiece in victories against the Buffalo Bills and the Jaguars. But Harbaugh said he is not stressing over his team’s struggles in finding the end zone.
“I am confident that the touchdowns are going to come,” he said. “I really do believe that we’ll get there. You have to do what you have to do to win a game. If we had been able to score touchdowns in that game, it wouldn’t have come down to what it came down to. We need to score touchdowns, and I am very confident that we can get there with our offense. I don’t think we’re far away.”
The saving grace has been the play of a defense that ranks second only to the Seattle Seahawks in yards allowed per game (254.3) and first downs per game (14.0).
But the defense will get tested by a Raiders offense that ranks second in rushing (148.3 yards per game) and total offense (436.0), and eighth in points (26.7).
Harbaugh understands the conundrum fans and observers are mired in when trying to assess the strength of this Ravens squad. But anything beyond Sunday’s game against Oakland matters little to the coach and his players.
“Where do we fit right now? And that’s what people are trying to figure out,” he said. “But really, we’re going to fit where we fit based on how we handle these challenges. I guess I’m circling back to say it really is hard to win in the National Football League. Everybody’s really good. People have really good coaches and really talented players, and these guys fight like crazy out there to win a football game. You only play 16 of them. That’s how valuable these games are. So that 31⁄ hours, and I think that’s why people love watching it. It’s really a dramatic struggle. So when you win one, it’s a real sense of accomplishment, and you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile.”