Skidding Ravens hope to begin second-half surge vs Steelers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — If the Baltimore Ravens are to end their run of three straight years without a playoff berth, they're going to have to play a whole lot better in the second half of the season.

Baltimore staggered to the midpoint with a .500 record and two straight losses, including a 36-21 dud at Carolina on Sunday that showcased many of the team's shortcomings: untimely penalties, a turnover-prone offense and a porous defense.

Fortunately for the Ravens, they still have time to get it right.

"We're 4-4 in a .500 league, we're a game out of first place and we've got our season in front of us," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We'd all like to have to a better record than we do right now. We probably should have a better record. But the record is what it is. That's our starting point, that's where we fight from."

The second half begins Sunday with a home matchup against the AFC North-leading Steelers (4-2-1), Baltimore's biggest rival. If the Ravens are going to right the ship, this would be the ideal place to start.

"It's perfect timing. It's a game we need this week," Harbaugh said. "I think it's all set up the way it's supposed to be set up and organized the way it's supposed to be organized from a big-picture standpoint."

That Ravens were soaring just two weeks ago, when they rang up 11 sacks in a 21-0 rout of Tennessee. Last week, the defense got to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees only once, and Cam Newton escaped Sunday without being sacked.

Clearly, the opposition is making adjustments to offset the once-ferocious pass rush.

"Yeah, people are playing completely different," Harbaugh said. "People aren't going to drop-back pass and just let us rush the quarterback in coverage. So I think that's the main thing. The game plans we've gotten in the last two weeks have been very different than the ones we've seen on tape."

Baltimore's offense has also struggled. Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, Alex Collins fumbled immediately after taking a handoff and the Ravens had another game in which they finished with a negative turnover differential.

"You can't leave a guy unblocked and (let him) run into the backfield early in the game when you have a chance for a good play," Harbaugh lamented. "Those end up being devastating plays. Those are the mistakes that we've got to clean up."

After that game in Tennessee, the Ravens had won three of four to move to 4-2. Now, they're just trying to remain upbeat.

"We are obviously not in the most ideal situation possible but we still have eight games left," Flacco said. "There is obviously a bigger threat now to let this stuff affect you mentally, let it affect the team and how we are jelling together. So we have to combat that just by being ourselves and being as tough as we possibly can."

The Ravens know they have to look forward, not back. Yet Flacco acknowledged that a 4-4 record at this stage is disappointing.

"Overall, when you look at us, you would think that we are pretty good," he said. "There is no lying in this league. You are what your record says you are, and that's the bottom line."

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