Bal­ti­more hopes to start faster, im­prove run game

Cecil Whig - - RAVENS COVERAGE - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— Of the five NFL teams with 3-0 records, none have been scru­ti­nized more than the Ravens.

The early sched­ule has been for­giv­ing. Bal­ti­more’s first three op­po­nents have a com­bined 1-8 record through three weeks and each game has been won nar­rowly.

The Philadel­phia Ea­gles won their first three con­tests by 65 com­bined points. The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, Den­ver Bron­cos and Min­nesota Vik­ings have point dif­fer­en­tials of 36, 27 and 24, re­spec­tively.

Com­par­a­tively, Bal­ti­more has won its first three games by 13 to­tal points.

On Mon­day, head coach John Har­baugh quoted Bill Par­cells by stat­ing, “You are what your record says you are.” The Ravens’ record says that they’re one

OWINGS MILLS

of five un­de­feated teams in the NFL.

The 3-0 start has cer­tainly been a prod­uct of a top-rated de­fense, but Bal­ti­more’s of­fense has done enough to win the first three games. Still, Har­baugh ac­knowl­edged some ways it can get bet­ter – like start­ing faster.

“We had two three-and­outs on of­fense [to start the game Sun­day], but we ended up get­ting a 10-point lead,” he said. “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.”

De­spite scor­ing the game’s first 10 points against the Jack­sonville Jaguars last week­end, the Ravens first two pos­ses­sions ended with punts af­ter three plays. Bal­ti­more found the end zone on the third se­ries – it’s only firstquar­ter touch­down of the sea­son.

The Ravens scored just two points in the first quar­ter against the Cleve­land Browns the pre­vi­ous week. Their first four of­fen­sive pos­ses­sions ended with a punt, an in­ter­cep­tion, a failed fourth-down try and an­other punt. Bal­ti­more’s de­fense buck­led down to shut out the Browns over the fi­nal three quar­ters and the of­fense found its groove to turn a 20-0 deficit into a 25-20 vic­tory.

The Ravens scored three first-quar­ter points Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. They punted on their first pos­ses­sion and fum­bled away the sec­ond be­fore Justin Tucker’s field goal got them on board.

“I’m not re­ally too wor­ried about it,” quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said Wed­nes­day about the of­fense’s slow starts. “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.”

Im­prov­ing the run game is the big­gest key to bol­ster­ing Bal­ti­more’s of­fense that ranks 25th in yards per game. The Ravens rank 26th with 82.3 yards rush­ing per game. Their 3.3 av­er­age yards per carry ranks 30th of 32 NFL teams.

“We just have to get the run­ning game go­ing,” Har­baugh said. “It’s al­ways been a group effort, even to the ex­tent that the pass­ing game affects the run­ning game. It takes all of us – play­ers, coaches, all of us – to get that part of our game go­ing, be­cause the more that gets go­ing, the more po­tent we’re go­ing to be.”

When Bal­ti­more scored its only first-quar­ter touch­down of the young sea­son Sun­day in Jack­sonville, it was also the team’s only rush­ing score of the year – a 7-yard scramble by Flacco.

The Ravens have a chance to jump­start the run game Sun­day when Oak­land vis­its. The Raiders de­fense has al­lowed a league-worst 467 yards per game.

“The main thing we look at first is our­selves. What can we do scheme-wise? How can we block it bet­ter? How can the backs read it bet­ter? How can they run bet­ter? It would be ev­ery as­pect of our run game that we’re look­ing at,” Har­baugh said. “We’ve made lots of changes. We’ve made lots of tweaks, but more than changes, it’s re­ally more just seek­ing to im­prove.”

An­other chal­lenge could be that the Ravens have started an all-rookie left side of their of­fen­sive line with Alex Lewis at guard and Ron­nie Stan­ley at tackle, though nei­ther prac­ticed on Wed­nes­day.

Ter­rance West leads Bal­ti­more with 119 yards on 33 car­ries (3.6 av­er­age) and the vet­eran Justin Forsett fol­lows with 31 rushes for 98 to­tal yards (3.2).

“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,” West said, con­fi­dently. “We got off to a good start the sec­ond half of the last game. We just have to keep it go­ing from there.”

Rookie run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon prac­ticed Wed­nes­day for the first time since sprain­ing his knee dur­ing the Ravens’ third pre­sea­son game. Dixon ap­peared to be on track to fac­tor heav­ily into Bal­ti­more’s rush­ing at­tack, and West said more com­pe­ti­tion will only make them all bet­ter.

“[He’s] a great guy off the field [and] a great player on the field,” West said. “When an­other player goes in there and busts a big run, you’re telling your­self, ‘Now I have to go and bust a big run.’ It’s com­pe­ti­tion, but at the same time, we’re just try­ing to help this team win in any way. That’s why we’re 3-0 right now.”

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

CE­CIL WHIG PHOT BY SEAN GRO­GAN

Run­ning back Ter­rance West is Bal­ti­more’s lead­ing rusher through three games.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY SEAN GRO­GAN

Rookie run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon prac­ticed Wed­nes­day for the first time since in­jur­ing his knee in a pre­sea­son game ver­sus the Detroit Lions in Au­gust.

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