Like it or not, Harbaugh begins offseason review

John Harbaugh would have preferred to be wearing sweat clothes,

standing on the football field and surrounded by a bunch of

players.

Instead, the Baltimore Ravens coach was sporting a sharp gray

suit, light blue shirt and striped tie Tuesday as he entered a vast

auditorium in the team’s training complex. The audience consisted

of members of the local media.

”I guess I apologize for the fact that we’re even having this

press conference, that we have to talk about wrapping up the season

and the playoffs haven’t even started yet,” Harbaugh said.

”That’s not territory that we’re very comfortable with or very

familiar with or that we’re very happy about around here.”

This is the time of year when Harbaugh usually gets his team

ready for the postseason. On this day, however, he was stuck with

explaining what went wrong during an 8-8 season that caused

Baltimore to miss the playoffs for the first time in his six years

as an NFL head coach.

”We understand that we didn’t get the job done, and we

understand that we’ve got to go to work to improve in every single

way that we possibly can,” Harbaugh said.

Coming off a victory in the Super Bowl, the Ravens sputtered

from the outset – losing to Denver 49-27 in the opener – and never

really recovered. Baltimore was 4-6 before going on a four-game

winning streak, but finished with lopsided losses to New England

and Cincinnati to fall from playoff contention.

Harbaugh won’t have to pore over much film to determine the

team’s flaws. In truth, he’s known for months why the Ravens aren’t

good enough to be in the playoffs.

The lengthy list begins with a running game that averaged a

meager 3.1 yards per carry.

”That’s probably our biggest disappointment, because we

philosophically believe in being a rough, tough, physical offense

that can run the football,” Harbaugh said. ”That’s got to be a

staple of what we’re going to do, and it wasn’t this year because

of a lot of things.”

Running back Ray Rice was slowed by a hip injury and finished

with only 660 yards rushing, but much of the blame can be directed

at an offensive line that neither opened up holes nor protected

quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw a career-high 22 interceptions

and was sacked 48 times.

”We’re going to need to run the ball better, we’re going to

need to protect Joe better,” Harbaugh said. ”Those things will

make us better offensively. We’ve got to make more big plays down

the field.”

Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP, simply wasn’t as effective as he was

last year. There were a variety of reasons for the decline,

beginning with the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and including

the training camp injury of tight end Dennis Pitta.

”We were not as good in the passing game as we needed to be,”

Harbaugh said. ”We never got together. If we’re going to be where

we need to be going forward, we have to work on getting that

done.”

It wasn’t just the offense. The defense performed well enough

after losing Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams,

but there was plenty of room for improvement.

”We’ve got to be better defensively in some ways, too,”

Harbaugh said. ”We need to be better in the fourth quarter, we’ve

got to be better protecting leads late in the game. Those are

things that probably would have made a difference in games that

probably would have gotten us into the playoffs. Coaches are

working on this.”

Although it’s not his preference, Harbaugh will begin planning

toward next year much earlier than usual.

”In all honesty, I cannot wait – and I know our coaches feel

the same way – to dig into building our systems going forward,” he

said. ”This is when you build the foundation of your team. The

better job that we do right now, scheme-wise and personnel-wise,

the better that we’ll do next year. It’s like a sense of urgency

right now to get to work.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org