Baltimore hopes to start faster, improve run game
— 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
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.”
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Running back Terrance West is Baltimore’s leading rusher through three games.
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.