Ravens puzzled about recent slow starts

OWINGS MILLS -- Call it a drought or a case of NFL scoring famine. Characterize the Baltimore Ravens' offense as notoriously slow starters, performing lately as if they're in dire need of a few strong cups of espresso during the first half of games over the past month.

Call it a relative mystery as to why a usually prolific, potent offense has suddenly ground to a halt and has been unable to consistently build momentum or leads heading into halftime.

Label it as one of those classic, all of the above cases. All of the descriptions fit.

"We're not starting off fast like we did at the beginning of the year," running back Willis McGahee said. "That's something we need to work on a lot more right now. Things don't click for us right away, right now."

That has become a troubling trend over the past five games.

After winning their first three games, the Ravens (4-4) have scored only 23 points before halftime during their past five games.

Their opponents have managed to pile up a combined 51 points during the first halves of those contests.

It's probably not a coincidence that they lost four of those five games.

For the entire season, the Ravens have scored 74 points in the first half. And they have scored 132 points after halftime, including 87 in the fourth quarter.

"I don't want to get into it right now," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked about the chronic slow starts. "Nothing that I could pin-point right now."

In getting off to a 3-0 start, the Ravens scored 10, 21 and 20 points in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns, respectively.

During a 17-7 loss last week to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens' offense generated only 44 yards by halftime and zero points.

"It's hard to put a finger on it, but I think that's going to be one of our goals throughout the second half of the season is getting off to a faster start," tight end Todd Heap said. "And we know we've been able to make adjustments as we get into the game and really come out in the second half and play well.

" Our focus, especially this week, is going to be getting off to a fast start, and I think everybody on offense, that's going to be something that we're all thinking about on Monday night."

For the entire game in Cincinnati, they converted just 1 of 10 third downs.

And quarterback Joe Flacco registered a season-worst 48.3 quarterback rating as he threw two interceptions.

What's inexplicable about the Ravens' zero points in the first half last week as well as Flacco going 4 for 9 for 27 yards by halftime and Baltimore gaining just 17 rushing yards on nine carries is how dominant they were during a 30-7 victory over the previously undefeated Denver Broncos the previous week.

"You play Denver, and obviously they are a good team, and we come out, and I don't know if we got off to a slow start, maybe points-wise, but really we thought we were playing pretty well," Flacco said. "Then we go into Cincinnati, and we played a slow game. I think it's a little bit of both. You're in a point in the season where guys start wearing down a little bit.

"You have injuries, 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. I don't know if this game was a good showing for us on either of those parts, physically or mentally. I just don't think we've played the way we wanted to."

Flacco has been electric late in games, ranking second in the league in fourth quarter passing as he has completed 67.5 percent of his throws for 803 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions for a 118.9 rating.

However, he hasn't been nearly as hot in the first quarter.

Heading into Monday night's game against a 1-7 Browns team, the Ravens will be looking to duplicate their early-season win where they scored on each of their first four possessions. "It's always important to start off as well as you can, because it's never good to give up points or to get in the hole or to have to play from behind no matter who you're playing," Harbaugh said. "I think that's true in this game as well."

The Bengals game is an extreme case study for what has plagued an offense that ranks a respectable 10th in the league in total offense (358.3 yards per game) and ninth in scoring offense (25.8).

During the first half, the Ravens had just three first downs as they converted none of their five third-down attempts.

Flacco was intercepted once, throwing in the turnover aspect.

"We just didn't play as well as we should have on Sunday for some reason," Flacco said. "It's inexcusable for an NFL team to come out and play the way we did. I think that's how we feel when we go back and look at the film. We just have to move on and make sure it doesn't happen again." Field position was horrendous with an average starting point of the Ravens' 17-yard line.

And the Bengals' offense completely dominated time of possession, grinding out drives to keep the Ravens' offense on the sidelines.

"I think it's a combination of two things: Mental errors and you've got to give credit to the other defense," wide receiver Derrick Mason said.

"They're out there playing, and obviously, doing something to stop you from moving the ball. There have been some mental mistakes here and there that have stopped us on drives. Physically, we go out there and we match with anybody.

"Mentally, there are some things that we could do better in the first half, and we understand that. It was a slow start the last four games of this season that we've played. We just have to find a way to get ourselves to get going early, and I know we will. Once we get going, it's hard to stop us."


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