NFL Wire News

Ravens must be raring to go at kickoff


OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Baltimore Ravens prepare for their AFC wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night, they hope to reverse their recent trend of slow starts offensively.

The Ravens have been outscored 41-20 in the first half of the past four games with zero offensive touchdowns in the first quarter during that span.

“I don’t know if it’s nerves, I don’t know how to put my finger on it,” running back Justin Forsett said. “It’s something that has to stop or the season will stop on us. I know we have the talent to make plays and do what we need to do. On Saturday, the talent, we have to step up and do our job.

“We’ve got to execute. It’s coming down to us not doing our job early on. We can’t allow that to happen. It’s the postseason. We’ve got to start fast and finish stronger, execute the details and make sure everyone is doing the right reads, catching the ball, cutting and doing what they need to do.”

The Ravens set season franchise records for scoring with 409 points and 5,838 yards of total offense, but their first-half and first-quarter struggles are glaring lately.

The Ravens had 30 first-half possessions in December, but 14 of those drives ended in punts. Four more were halted by turnovers. Against the Browns, the Ravens had four drives in the first quarter with 21 yards of total offense and three punts.

“We’ve struggled with some interesting stuff,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “The other day, the first four plays of the game we jumped offsides, dropped the ball and fumbled the snap. Those things you take for granted all the time, so I don’t know.

“We had been a pretty good starting football team through about 12 weeks, and then we went on about a three-week span there where we hadn’t started games very well, but the good news is we have rallied and made some plays. We need to start better, but, if we don’t, we need to keep battling and make the plays before the day is over.”

That’s something the Ravens feel particularly strong about against the Steelers’ 18th-ranked defense that’s led by inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and ranks sixth against the run.

“Slow starts, third downs, touchdowns in the red zone, especially when you play Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, those are things you really need to do well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We need to do better at those things if we expect to come out of there with a victory.”

During the first quarter of their games against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Browns, the Ravens scored zero points offensively. The Ravens’ lone touchdown in the first quarter during that span came on a blocked punt against the Jaguars as wide receiver Kamar Aiken scooped it up and ran into the end zone.

Against the Browns, the Ravens had zero points in the first half and gained just 126 yards of total offense as they went 3 of 9 on third downs and 0 of 2 in the red zone.

“Obviously, it’s something we need to address and fix and make sure it doesn’t happen,” Flacco said. “But I think the biggest thing is just to go out there and be aggressive and do the things that we do well and make the plays when they’re presented to us and just play fundamental.

“At this point, you can’t have it be too big of a concern. It’s a very big game, and we have to worry about some other things and going out there and playing each play. So it’s not going to be on our mind when we take the field and it really can’t be if we want to have any success.”

–The last time Flacco encountered Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his signature zone-blitz scheme, it was a painful experience for the quarterback.

Flacco was sacked four times and hit 10 times overall, including two sacks by veteran outside linebacker James Harrison during a 43-23 blowout loss on Nov. 2 at Heinz Field.

So LeBeau is expected to crank up the pass rush and repeatedly send Harrison and fellowoutside linebacker Jason Worilds, defensive end Cam Heyward and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons after Flacco again.

The Steelers have just 33 sacks this season, ranking 27th in pass defense with 30 touchdown passes allowed. They typically have some of their best performances against the Ravens in game plans crafted by LeBeau, the architect of the zone blitz.

“I think the biggest thing is they’re just very good at doing what they do,” Flacco said. “They do a good amount of things, and they try to put pressure on the quarterback. The biggest thing over there has been the players that they have and their ability to really sit there and run it and do the amount of things that he asks them to do.

“I don’t know if his call sheet is very long or elaborate or anything like that, but he can come up with some things that are tough for offenses, and those guys are very good at doing what he wants and operating it.”

— Although Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell is regarded as a long shot to play Saturday night because of a hyperextended knee, the Ravens won’t trust that’s accurate information until he’s officially ruled out.

“I haven’t heard a final thing on that,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “When I hear, ‘Definitely not going to play,’ then I’ll still be suspicious. You have to assume that those guys are going to be out there until they’re ruled out and we’ll prepare for everybody.”

SERIES HISTORY: 38thnd meeting, Steelers lead regular-season series 21-17. They’re 3-0 against the Ravens in the playoffs. The teams split the regular-season series this year with the Ravens losing 43-23 in the last meeting in November at Heinz Field.

NOTES: DE Chris Canty has an ankle injury but is expected to play Saturday. … OLB Eugene Monroe has an ankle injury and is in a walking boot and is expected to miss Saturday’s game, as are DT Timmy Jernigan (foot) and ILB Arthur Brown (hamstring).

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