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The Ravens’ slow-starting offense is a glaring issue that needs to be corrected

Exploring the Ravens’ offensive issues early in games

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

This season has been a bit of a rollercoaster for the Ravens. Despite a fair bit of ups and downs, the Ravens hold a record of 5-2 entering this week’s bye. Their stock took a hit following last week’s 41-17 loss to the Bengals, but the Ravens still rank as one of top teams in the AFC and NFL right now.

With that being said, nobody would mistake them for being a flawless group. There are some clear points of concern that need to be addressed.

On paper, the Ravens have been a top-tier offensive team this season. Through Week 7, they rank fourth in yards per game (417.6) and ninth in points per game (26.7). Their offense ranks Top-10 in both passing and rushing yards per game, also.

However, despite these numbers, their offensive performance early in games is a clear issue. The Ravens’ offense has been one of the slowest-starting units in the NFL this season. It’s something that needs to be corrected during after the bye week for the Ravens to have more success during the second half the year.

Opening drive struggles

Against the Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens’ offense put together a 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that took almost seven minutes off the clock. Unfortunately, this was an anomaly more than the norm — it’s the only time they’ve scored on their opening offensive possession all season.

Here is a brief summary of how the Ravens’ opening drives have gone, excluding Week 6 against Los Angeles —

Week 1: 8 plays, 24 yards, 2 first downs, 5:15 (punt)

Week 2: 3 plays, 2 yards, 0:15 (pick-six interception)

Week 3: 3 plays, 5 yards, 2:12 (punt)

Week 4: 6 plays, 13 yards, 1 first down, 2:50 (punt)

Week 5: 3 plays, 5 yards, 1:38 (punt)

Week 7: 6 plays, 2 yards, 3:10 (punt)

These add up to some bleak totals: five punts, one turnover and three 3-and-outs. Of these six instances, only twice did the Ravens gain more than 10 yards. Some common setbacks across these possessions include penalties, incompletions, negative runs and sacks.

Whether they receive the ball first or defer, the Ravens have generally come out flat to begin games. They’ve struggled to keep the chains moving on opening possessions and have shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions.

1st quarter woes

The first quarter has been the Ravens’ worst scoring quarter by far. Their offense has scored a grand total of 21 combined in seven total first quarters. 14 of these 21 points came in Weeks 1 and 2; they went scoreless in Q1 against the Lions, Broncos, Colts and Bengals.

Here’s the Ravens’ scoring output by quarter on the season —

1st quarter: 21 points

2nd quarter: 67 points

3rd quarter: 88 points

4th quarter: 54 points

One of these things is not like the other . . .

It’s not just that the Ravens’ opening drives aren’t producing points, it’s that they’re rarely following them up with strong second or third drives, either. It’s taken until the second quarter for the offense to take off; the second quarter (67 points) is their second highest-scoring quarter of the season. For perspective, the Ravens have scored as many points in the third quarter alone this season (88) as they have in the entire first and second quarter combined (88).

Fortunately, for all their flaws, the Ravens’ defense has been strong early in games. They’ve allowed only 24 first quarter points thus far, so the Ravens only have a -3 point differential in Q1 on the season. However, this isn’t a recipe for sustained success moving forward.

Too often the Ravens found themselves playing from behind and having to catch-up. To their credit, they’ve trailed at some point in four of their five wins this season — but it’s a stark contrast to what we’ve seen from the Baltimore offense over the past two years.

In 2019 and 2020, the Ravens frequently started games fast. They got the jump on opponents by scoring quickly, which they then capitalized on by running the ball and controlling the time of possession. This season, that has not been the case at all.

Through Week 7 of 2021, the Ravens’ average of 3.0 PPG in the first quarter ranks just 23rd in the NFL. For comparison, they averaged 7.5 PPG and 6.6 PPG in the first quarter in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and ranked No. 1 in the NFL both seasons.

An injury-riddled running back room and offensive line has surely not helped matters. The Ravens are not gaining nearly as much yardage on early-down runs as they had been the past two years. Similarly, their short-yardage success on third down has also taken a big hit.

The Ravens rank in the bottom-half of the league in third down conversions this season. The offense has added a big-play element in the passing game that has been missing, but they aren’t sustaining drives with the same level of success. They need more consistency in the running game and offensive line play. Barring a big move ahead of the trade deadline, though, the Ravens will have to work with the personnel they have at their disposal.

Regardless of what factors you want to contribute to the problem, finding more offensive success early in games should be a major point of emphasis for the Ravens during the bye week.