One year ago, the Ravens won six of their first seven games decided by seven points or less.
This year, the team is 2-4 in such contests. During their current slide of three straight losses and four in five games, the Ravens have lost each contest by six points or fewer with the four defeats coming by a combined 14 points.
The fact that the Ravens are that close to winning isn’t something that has brought comfort during the 3-5 start to the year.
“It’s the National Football League, and most all the games are going to be close. And the difference is winning the close games,” coach John Harbaugh said. “When you look at the teams that have the winning records, they’ve won the close games. There are exceptions. Denver has had a lot of high-scoring games, but most of the teams are winning close games. We’ve done that in the past. We have to do that again. That’s what we have to figure out how to do.
“On defense, we have to get off the field and give our offense a chance. The defense can’t control what the offense is going to do with it, but that’s the thing on defense that we need to do. The other thing we need to do is we need to start faster. Let’s come out of the gates. Let’s find a way to get a lead. We have not been able to do that. I just talked to the team about that. ... Let’s find a way to do that with how we practice and how we prepare.
“Then, offensively, we’ve just got to get better. We’ve just got to continue to improve. There’s a lot of unseen improvement in there when you study the tape. I’ve got a lot of optimism; we do as a team. But we’d sure like to get it going and build some confidence and see our guys starting to make some plays. We believe we can do that. So, we’ll just keep working toward that and we’ll be looking for a breakout here.”
One of the lead reasons for the close losses, a cause Harbaugh listed prominently, is slow starts.
Baltimore has scored just two offensive touchdowns in the first half since scoring two in the opening half at Denver in Week 1. Seven games, two offensive touchdowns before halftime.
Especially when three points has been the difference between winning and losing, the inability to punch the ball in the end zone early has proven to be detrimental.
Wideout Torrey Smith has trouble explaining why that trend has persisted up to the midpoint.
“If we knew, it wouldn’t be happening,” he said. “All of our problems now are on us. We’ve got to go out there and get it done. There is no motivational speech, no action, no scheme change or anything that’s going to happen that’s going to magically make us turn it around. We’ve got to go out there and play ball. It’s really that simple.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco is aware of the symptoms of the Ravens’ inability to get things going from the beginning of contests.
“I’m seeing us not get first downs. We’re just not good enough at converting and putting ourselves in situations where we’re fighting a battle that we can win consistently,” Flacco said. “We’re putting ourselves in situations that are tough and are uphill. When you do that, it’s tough to get going for an 80-yard drive. We usually come out into the second half and start it pretty well there, but it’s just taking us a while to get going early on. We just haven’t been good enough across the board in terms of precision in the passing game and getting the running game going and getting first downs. That stuff leads to first downs. We just haven’t done it.”
Although the running backs and line have absorbed much of the blame for the poor starts, and the unit’s difficulties in general, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell spreads blame around for the slow starts.
“It’s not a one-person thing. It’s across the board,” he said. “We just haven’t been clicking on all cylinders right at the onset, and that’s something we need to - and John keeps pounding that home, and we try and make certain that when we go out to practice, we start the practice fast, start it with intent, minimize mistakes, all those kinds of things. And we have to keep working on it because obviously it’s not good right now.”
The onus for fixing it is on the players themselves because there isn’t that much for the team to change offensively at this point of the season. The Ravens did add the pistol, but that’s just a small piece.
There are no cure-alls this late in the game.
“Even if you do rip up everything, it’s not like you can make it that much different,” Flacco said. “We’ve just got to be better at what we do. We haven’t been good enough, that’s why we’re not winning football games. It’s really pretty simple. Obviously, it’s a little more complicated. You’ve got good defenses you’re going against and all that. But we’ve just got to get better and continue to have confidence and continue to believe that we’re going to push through it and be a good football team.”