Of­fense has been slug­gish to start

Sig­nif­i­cance of get­ting early lead not lost on Ravens

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

The Ravens’ per­fect start has dis­guised their im­per­fect starts in three vic­to­ries.

While the team is one of just five in the NFL still un­de­feated, it has not ex­actly been sprint­ing out of the locker room in those wins.

In eight of­fen­sive pos­ses­sions in the open­ing quar­ters, the Ravens have punted four times, com­mit­ted two turnovers, and scored one touch­down and one field goal. They also got a 2-point con­ver­sion off of a blocked ex­tra­point at­tempt.

The team has been outscored 20-12 in the first quar­ter. While 13 other of­fenses have scored less than 12 points in the same time frame, play­ers and coaches are fully aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of get­ting an early lead.

“It’s very im­por­tant be­cause the more weeks pass, the more teams set­tle in and the bet­ter teams get,” wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace said. “So we won’t be able to make those same mis­takes and prob­a­bly come back like we have been. Like I said, the Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 3

weeks pass, those teams are go­ing to find them­selves, and ev­ery­body will, and when you get down in a game, some of those games you won’t be able to come back. So you have to have a fast start. You can’t get down 20-0; you can’t get down 14-0. Some­times it hap­pens like that. We just have the char­ac­ter and the play­ers, though, to over­come it.”

Out­comes usually don’t hinge on the first quar­ter, and plenty of teams might ac­cept e lethar­gic open­ings in ex­change for strong fin­ishes. But fast starts can be a tell­tale sign, es­pe­cially for the Ravens.

In two of the past three sea­sons, the Ravens were outscored by op­po­nents in first quar­ters. Op­pos­ing teams outscored the Ravens 63-59 in 2013 and 80-64 in 2015. The team did not qual­ify for the play­offs in those years.

The team failed to score a touch­down in the first quar­ter this fall un­til 3:52 re­mained in the open­ing pe­riod of Sun­day’s 19-17 Week 3 win against the Jack­sonville Jaguars. That’s the longest the Ravens have gone with­out scor­ing a first-quar­ter touch­down since 2010, when that team also scored in the third game of the year.

It’s be­gin­ning to sound like a bro­ken record, but mi­nus­cule gains in the run game have helped pro­mote these slow starts. The rush­ing of­fense ranks 26th in the NFL at 82.3 yards per game.

The even­tual re­turn of rookie run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon, who led the team in rush­ing in the pre­sea­son be­fore suf­fer­ing a strained MCL in his left knee Aug. 27, could spark some­thing on the ground. But he’s prac­tic­ing on a lim­ited ba­sis and isn’t ready to play in games yet.

Run­ning back Ter­rance West said he has faith that the group of tail­backs will even­tu­ally pro­duce.

“We just have to take it back to the prac­tice field and take it one play at a time,” said West (Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, North­west­ern High). “The run­ning game is go­ing to bust open. We just have to be pa­tient, and when it hap­pens, we have to take ad­van­tage of it.”

The sim­ple so­lu­tion is preach­ing more pre­cise ex­e­cu­tion from the play­ers. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man said details such as dropped passes or missed block­ing as­sign­ments have grounded drives and prompted punts.

“Those are things we all can con­trol,” he said. “We’ve got to do a bet­ter job of be­ing “I’m not re­ally too wor­ried about it,” quar­ter­back Joe Flacco (5) said of the Ravens’ slow starts. “I feel like we know what is go­ing on. We feel good about a lot of the things we are do­ing.” more con­sis­tent and com­ing out faster. It’s still too early to tell, but we’ve got to play bet­ter early on, and there’s no doubt about that, and that’s on each and ev­ery one of us to get that done.”

As the sea­son con­tin­ues to un­fold, op­pos­ing de­fenses will have im­proved in their schemes and their study of the Ravens’ of­fen­sive ten­den­cies. That’s why there is no quick and easy rem­edy to coach John Har­baugh.

“It’s a tough league, and you’re go­ing against the best foot­ball teams and play­ers in the land, and ev­ery­body is pretty even,” he said. “There’s a lot of par­ity in this league. There are al­ways go­ing to be things that you’re not go­ing to be happy about. Even in blowout wins, there are things that teams are not happy with that they need to do bet­ter. In the tight kind of games that we’re go­ing to play, you’re go­ing to have to over­come a slow start or you get a fast start. We had two three-and-outs on of­fense, but we ended up get­ting a 10-point lead. Then they whit­tled their way back into it. We want to get the lead as soon as we can, and then we want to ex­tend the lead as much as we can.”

Two of the Ravens’ next four op­po­nents — the Wash­ing­ton Redskins on Oct. 9 and the New York Jets on Oct. 23 — have been outscored in the first quar­ter this sea­son. And as quar­ter­back Joe Flacco deep­ens his co­he­sion with wide re­ceivers Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wal­lace and Bre­shad Per­ri­man, the pass­ing at­tack could set the stage for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment.

Con­fi­dence cer­tainly is not a prob­lem, as ev­i­denced by Flacco’s re­sponse to the slow starts.

“I’m not re­ally too wor­ried about it,” he said. “I feel like we know what is go­ing on. We feel good about a lot of the things we are do­ing. We feel like we are ready to burst onto the scene. We have a lot of mov­ing parts, a lot of guys catch­ing passes. I think if we get our run game go­ing a lit­tle bit and clean up the lit­tle things like penal­ties, some drops and a cou­ple missed throws — stuff like that — I think we will be go­ing.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ravens wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. at­tempts to es­cape the tackle of the Jaguars’ Tashaun Gip­son (39) on Sun­day.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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