Close losses not the only difference from last year

Close losses not the only difference from last year
October 23, 2013, 11:00 am
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Ravens must improve in all 3 aspects of the game

As the Ravens limp into their bye week at 3-4, coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that that "the biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games. Last year we won the close games."

Indeed, through seven games this season, the Ravens are 1-3 in games decided by three points or less, with a loss to Buffalo, a win at Miami and then losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

At the seven-game mark last season, the Ravens were 5-2, including 3-1 in close games. They had a one-point loss to the Eagles, but a one-point win over New England, a three-point win at Kansas City and a two-point win over Dallas.

In the final analysis, wins and losses are all that matters, so Harbaugh is correct in saying that the two-game swing in the standings is biggest difference.  That can be monumental in a 16-game season and a tightly contested division. It's no accident that the Bengals are 2-1 in such games this season and sit atop the division.

But there are other glaring differences at the seven-game mark between this year's team and last year's, which entered the bye at 5-2 after taking a 43-13 thumping at Houston. Here are three of them,and they are certainly all factors in losing close games:

1. Rushing yardage

First and foremost, the Ravens simply aren't running the ball this season. No, this isn't news to anyone who has seen this team play.

Through seven games last year, Ray Rice (106-524) and Bernard Pierce (23-122) had gained 646 yards on the ground and averaged almost exactly 5 yards a carry. This year, Rice (86-242) and Pierce (79-219) have 36 more carries but 185 fewer yards. The average yardage per carry (2.8) is down by 44 percent.

2. Turnovers

Through seven games last season, the Ravens defense backs had intercepted seven passes, returning two for touchdowns. This season the Ravens secondary has just two interceptions (Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham). Overall through seven games this season, the Ravens turnover margin sits at minus-2. Last year at this time it was plus-5. That's a difference of seven, or one turnover per game, which certainly can be the difference in a three-point game.

3.First-half scoring

The Ravens simply aren't getting out of the gate like they did last year. Last season, the Ravens had 80 first-half points in the first seven games and they led at halftime four times. This year they have scored 53 first-half points and have led twice. In the past six games, the Ravens have produced one offensive touchdown in the first half.