Ravens need to score early, or it may be too late

Team's first-half scoring drought must end Monday in Cleveland

November 13, 2009|By Ken Murray | ken.murray@baltsun.com

Backed against a wall of 4-4 mediocrity, the Ravens will come out fighting Monday night in Cleveland. But will they come out scoring?

A fast start would alleviate growing concern about the state of the offense and provide a much-needed breather for the overworked defense.

As trends go, this one is glaring: The Ravens haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first half in their past four games. A scoreless first half in Cincinnati stretched the drought to nine quarters and 25 possessions, going back to a touchdown catch Oct. 4 by Derrick Mason in New England.

The question of the week is, how do they resolve the first-half end zone blackout?

"There's nothing the coaches can do about it," running back Ray Rice said. "That's just [on] us players. As players, we have to take the initiative and go out there and start fast. That has nothing to do with the play call or anything else."

Better execution, sharper focus and playing faster are among the proposed solutions. What it really comes down to, though, is simply making plays against the Browns on Monday.

In Sunday's 17-7 loss to the Bengals, the Ravens' offense couldn't stay on the field in the first half and the defense couldn't get off. The Bengals ran 42 offensive plays to the Ravens' 18 and outgained them by 235 yards to 44.

"For whatever reason, we have not done things well, especially in critical situations," coach John Harbaugh said. "We haven't done the things we need to do to make a play in a situation to get a first down, or to make a stop.

"I think the penalties are a big part of that. For whatever reason, we've had penalties that have kept [opponents'] drives alive way too often this season - the pass interference, the defensive holding things - whether it's jumping offside, the same things on offense that have put us in a hole and gotten us off schedule."

In the first four games of the season, the Ravens scored 58 points in the first half on seven offensive touchdowns. In the past four games, they have scored 16 points before halftime on three field goals and one defensive touchdown.

"I think it's a combination of two things," Mason said. "Mental errors and you've got to give credit to the other defense. They're out there playing and obviously doing something to stop you from moving the ball.

"Then again, we've had some situations or opportunities that we didn't make the best of. There have been some mental mistakes here and there that have stopped us on drives. So, I don't think it has anything to do with [being] physical, because physically ... we match with anybody."

During the past four games, the Ravens have had 21 offensive possessions during the first half. They resulted in 13 punts, three field goals, two interceptions and three drives that were ended on downs or by the end of the half. The Ravens did not score in either first half against the Bengals.

What's more, they reached the red zone only three times in the first halves of those games, twice coming away with field goals. Interestingly, all three red zone drives were accomplished in the no-huddle offense.

Harbaugh said the Ravens already use a lot of no-huddle offense.

"We mix that no-huddle in all the time," he said. "So we kind of [go] no-huddle and our changeup is [to] huddle, if you look at what we've done. It'd be hard for us to do no-huddle more than what we do already, I think."

In fact, the Ravens opened the season against the Kansas City Chiefs in the no-huddle, and quarterback Joe Flacco appears to be quite proficient in it.

When Flacco met reporters Thursday, he said it was "inexcusable for an NFL team to come out and play the way we did" in Cincinnati. He pointed out that the offense had played well in a 30-6 beatdown of the Denver Broncos the week before.

"Then we go into Cincinnati and we played a slow game," he said. "You're at a point in the season where guys start wearing down a little bit. You have injuries. … Even if you have that, it's not really an excuse to go out there and play slow. You've got to make sure you're mentally ready for the game, and I don't know if we were."

While the Ravens have been held to 16 points in the first half the past four games, they have erupted for 66 points in the second half, including a combined 52 against the Minnesota Vikings and Broncos. Which means there is no carry-over of the offensive problems of the first half.

"It's a little easier in the second half, just because you've seen what the [other] team is doing and you get to make your adjustments," right guard Chris Chester said. "That being said, we have the capability as an offensive unit to start better than we have. We have to continue to work on that."

At 4-4, the Ravens have little margin for error and no room for another scoreless first half.

"I think everybody understands this week what it means for our season to go into Cleveland and get a win," Flacco said. "No offense to 'Monday Night Football,' but that's not what it's about. It should be fun and everything like that, but we've got to go out there and we've got to get a win for our season. It's got to act as a jump-start for us. We've got to carry it into the next couple of weeks."

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