For a team that's 5-2, there's a lot wrong with the Ravens heading into this bye week.
Particularly the defense, which uncharacteristically ranks 26th in yardage allowed by giving up exactly 400 per game. That's worst among teams with records .500 and above.
The run defense allowed 181 yards in Sunday's 30-point loss to the Houston Texans. In two games before that, the Ravens allowed 441 yards on the ground, including a franchise-record 227 to the Dallas Cowboys.
It's an astounding figure, and as the NFL season continues the games will only get tougher as the Ravens start going on the road -- where they're 1-2 and especially troubled -- after the bye.
Three of the next four games for the Ravens are away, starting with the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 4, are away from home. They'll face Trent Richardson (Browns), Darren McFadden (Raiders), Jonathan Dwyer (Steelers) and Ryan Matthews (Chargers).
Coach John Harbaugh believes he has all the pieces he needs to be successful this season, but if his overall defense is to improve this is what needs fixing:
Get ahead early in the count: In other words force the opposing offense into predictable passing situations on second and third downs by doing better on first down. Early in the season the issue was "chunk" plays, giving up gains of 20-yards or more, that led to the Ravens' downfall in a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, they gave up nine "chunk" plays. Since then, they've prevented the likes of Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster from having huge gains but they haven't stopped them either. Instead, teams are marching methodically, wearing out the defense and chewing up the clock. In the 31-29 win vs. the Cowboys, the defense wasn't able to get off the field as it allowed Tony Romo to lead an 18-play drive.
Tightening up coverage: Until CB Jimmy Smith, the replacement for Lardarius Webb (ACL tear), can prove he's not vulnerable on the deep routes, teams will continually go after him. Smith is just a second-year player, but he has been beaten badly on double moves. Texans QB Matt Schaub went after him immediately, got an early lead, then went to Foster to grind out the game. This gameplan could become painfully familiar.
Upgrade rush: There hasn't been much of one from DE Pernell McPhee, who indicated early in the season he had been slowed by injuries. He has only one-half sack from the edge through seven games. He had six last season as a rookie. His backup Arthur Jones hasn't produced either. The front seven aren't getting much push off the snap to create uncomfortable pockets for quarterbacks, either. So it's not simply a problem with McPhee and Jones. Their lack of production is just the tip of the iceberg. Better pressure up front would help Smith and company in the secondary.
Shaping up Suggs: That's where Terrell Suggs, aka T-Sizzle, comes in. He played an amazing 44 snaps in his first game of the season last week, so he'll undoubtedly be better as he rounds into top shape. He's clearly about 15 pounds heavier since an Achilles tear kept him out since April. His return has given the Ravens a boost of confidence, even though it didn't show on the scoreboard in the Texans game. Also, LB Ray Lewis is expected to be around the team soon after he had surgery to fix a torn triceps that ended his season.
Ball control: This is a matter for the offense, but it can assist the defense by not leaving them on the field for prolonged periods. The Ravens are last in the NFL in time of possession at just 26 minutes per game. And at times, such as vs. the Eagles when the defense forced them into four turnovers, it wilted because of fatigue. The offense couldn't get first downs and extend drives. This defense needs all the help it can get until it finds its away again. The hurry-up offense needs to slow down, use RB Ray Rice more, milk the clock and give this defense a cushion to play with. It's a much better group when playing ahead.