Ravens struggling to score early in road games this season

November 15, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

When the Ravens play at the struggling Carolina Panthers on Sunday, they'll take along the NFL's hottest quarterback, a playmaking running back and a troublesome trend.

In their five road games this season, the Ravens have struggled mightily in the first quarter, managing a total of three points while getting shut out four times.

Slow starts on the road are becoming an increasing problem and appear to be more than just happenstance. The Ravens have failed to score a point in the first half of five of Joe Flacco's past 10 road games.

"There's not some formula for scoring on the road early in the drive," coach John Harbaugh said Monday after the players' three-day break. "There's executing on the road … and attacking a defensive effectively. That's what it really boils down to -- playing well."

The Ravens were certainly not playing at their best in the season opener at the New York Jets, where they committed two turnovers in the first quarter. They weren't sharp the next week at Cincinnati, where Flacco missed on all four of his first-quarter throws.

And they really had no offensive flow Thursday in Atlanta, where Flacco and running back Ray Rice couldn't move the ball past their own 41-yard line in the opening period.

That 26-21 loss to the Falcons marked the eighth time in the past 11 road games that the Ravens were blanked in the first quarter.

When a reporter asked Harbaugh if the early scoring struggles on the road were something he needed to address, Harbaugh responded with a shrug: "Like what? What do you think?"

The reporter replied, "Score more."

Harbaugh smiled and said, "I'm for that. That's my deal, too. Let's score more earlier on the road."

The first-quarter troubles don't extend to M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have been shut out only once in their past 13 home games.

The reason the Ravens sputter on the road and not at home could be traced to their hurry-up offense. A rhythm passer, Flacco seems to play at his best in a fast-paced approach.

The Ravens are more reluctant to go no-huddle on the road because of the crowd noise. But when the Ravens have been forced to run their hurry-up offense -- trailing in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh and Atlanta -- Flacco completed 21 of 27 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

Harbaugh, though, reiterated that there's no cure-all.

"It's specific things. It's specific issues," Harbaugh said. "It's play by play, drive by drive. Execution is what it really boils down to."

There might not be an easy solution, but the reeling Panthers (1-8) could be a timely remedy for the Ravens' first-quarter ailments.

The Panthers have allowed 59 first-quarter points this season and have given up a touchdown in the first period in seven of nine games.

"We're a good football team right now," Harbaugh said. "If we get better this week to the next week to the week after, we'll be a force to contend with in this race. That's our job. That's what we've got to get done. We've got to improve and we're very determined to do that."

The first-quarter flops are curious because the Ravens' offense seems to be hitting its stride lately.

The Ravens have scored at least 20 points in five straight games. Flacco is the NFL's top-rated passer over the past eight weeks (107.1). Rice is averaging 128 yards from scrimmage over his last five games.

That offensive production has helped put the Ravens (6-3) into a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North.

After Sunday's game at Carolina, the Ravens finish the regular season by playing four of six games at home.

"I'd rather be 9-0," Harbaugh said. "Are we happy with 6-3? No. But that's where we are. We are on top of the division and we have our fate in our own hands. We can accomplish whatever we want this year … and we're going to try to do it."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

The Ravens have started off slow on the road, scoring a total of three points in the first quarter this season: TeamPtsYds1st downsN.Y. Jets0585Cincinnati0332Pittsburgh01135New England3926Atlanta0513

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