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Ravens vie to fix struggling 26th-ranked defense

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Ravens vie to fix struggling 26th-ranked defense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) For years, the Baltimore Ravens have won because of their defense. Now they're winning in spite of it.

That does not sit well with defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who could not mask his disgust Thursday when asked to comment on a unit uncharacteristically ranked 26th among 32 NFL teams.

``It makes me sick,'' he said. ``It's up to me and it's up to our staff to get this corrected.''

Baltimore is 5-1, no thanks to a defense that yielded a whopping 30 first downs in a 31-29 win over Dallas on Sunday. After the Kansas City Chiefs amassed 214 yards rushing on Oct. 7, the Cowboys topped that with 227 on the ground - the most ever against the Ravens.

``I think it's to a point now where we have to take a stand,'' safety Bernard Pollard said. ``Two weeks in a row, 200 freaking yards rushing? We have to walk out there with pride. We have to support our offense and special teams, getting the ball back to them. We cannot continue to ask our offense to go out there and put together these 35-, 40-point games. We can't continue to do that, because it's one-sided. We aren't helping them.''

Pollard probably winced while watching tape of Baltimore's ugly win over Dallas.

``For us as a defense, we are (ticked) off, about the way we played. The things that we've put on film,'' Pollard said. ``We own it. We are going to fix it, and I think it starts with the preparation throughout the week. Things are going to change.''

It's almost bizarre, really, because the Ravens have been leaning on their defense for more than a decade. Entering this season, Baltimore ranked in the top 5 in run defense for six straight years, and the Ravens have held opponents under 4.0 yards per rush in every year of their existence (16).

This year, however, Baltimore ranks 26th against the rush and the opposition is averaging a robust 3.8 yards per carry - including 4.74 over the last two weeks.

``It's just not executing on the tackle,'' Pollard said. ``We had one play (against Dallas) where the running back stiff-armed one guy and then stiff-armed another guy and ran for a touchdown. The other guy was me. We have to get guys on the ground.''

And now the Ravens are gearing up for a matchup Sunday against Houston (5-1) and standout running back Arian Foster. Worse, the Ravens will be without linebacker Ray Lewis, the team's leading tackler, and shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb, both of whom sustained significant injuries last Sunday.

Pees isn't concerned about his personnel. He's already without injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and he's tried his best to fill the holes left by the departure of free agents Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding.

Jameel McClain will take over for Lewis and Jimmy Smith will assume the cornerback spot for Webb.

``You might do a couple of subtle things differently,'' Pees said. ``But right now, I'm happy as I can be to be 5-1. But I also feel fortunate to be 5-1 the way we're playing on defense. Let's be honest. We're not playing well enough, and to say it any other way would sound like a political debate. We've got to do it. It's not about Houston and anybody else after Houston. It's more about us learning to play defense back to the way we play it. And that's about technique and fundamentals.

``With Ray and Lardarius out, yes, it's next man up. But it's about us playing better.''

Pollard could not agree more.

``Don't blame the coach because he doesn't play,'' Pollard said. ``Dean has made great calls. It's about us going out there and executing. The coaches can't push a button to make us wrap up and tackle.''

Free safety Ed Reed, the last line of defense, missed several tackles on Sunday. He said this week that he's been playing through a shoulder injury, even though he was not listed on the team's injury report.

``I don't play baseball. So long as I'm not throwing,'' he said. ``It's nothing to worry about. The last few weeks I've been dealing with it. It's all right.''

Houston and Baltimore are the only teams in the AFC with winning record. That, and not the Ravens' struggling defense, is what caught the attention of Texans coach Gary Kubiak.

``The one thing that jumps at me is they may have given up some yards on the ground,'' he said, ``but they're winning those games.''

Ultimately, Pees believes, the defense will have something to do with it.

``These past six weeks, I can't change it,'' he said. ``It's about going forward. We have enough talent to succeed. We just have to play better.''

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are no dreary work days for Don Martindale, who has overwhelmingly embraced his new role as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

After serving for five seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to coordinator in January after Dean Pees left the post.

Enthusiastic doesn't even begin to describe Martindale's attitude about being in charge of the defense.

"Ever since we've made this transition, it's been a joy to just come through those gates every day. I love it," Martindale said after Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.

This isn't the first time Martindale has been put in charge of molding a defense. In 2010, he watched over a unit in Denver that was the worst in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.

Given a second chance, the 55-year-old Martindale is putting together a defense that will rely heavily on the instinct of several of its most proven players, most notably safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," Weddle said. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

Martindale called Mosley "the quarterback" of a fluid unit that can make a snap-change from drop-back coverage to an all-out blitz. In that regard, Mosley believes this defense is superior to the one that in 2017 yielded 18.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

"The way we're able to use our core guys, put them in different spots and do some of the same things just from different positions, it's more creative, I would say, than where we were last year," Mosley said.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh promoted Martindale rather than go outside the organization because he wanted to extend his vision of a defense that has evolved since his arrival in 2008.

"All we're doing is forwarding John's plan," Martindale said. "We're remodeling the package. It's still Ravens football, it's still Ravens defense, but we've streamlined it. It's the elegant simplicity. Guys are playing really fast."

Asked for his take on Martindale's defense, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg replied, "They're fast and they're furious."

Sure, things might be different once the pads go on at training camp, but at this point, Martindale's boss likes what he sees.

"We're doing a lot of neat things on defense, things that are really good," Harbaugh said. "More than ever, we're putting it on our players to make decisions in real time."

Martindale has a new title, but old habits die hard.

"For the most part, it's been the same," Mosley said. "He always comes in and says, `I have to lead the linebacker room,' and sits down and gets to talking like he's back at linebacker coach."

Told of Mosley's disclosure, Martindale smiled and said, "I've been trying to stay out of there, but you can't help but go in. That's home. I have a good time in the secondary room as well."

And just about everywhere else.

"Where we're going with this thing is really exciting to me," Martindale said, "and I know it's exciting to the players."

In other training camp news, cornerback Jimmy Smith was a surprise participant at practice, going through a light regimen of individual drills just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know if Jimmy's like half Wolverine, but he's healed up in half the time of regular human beings," Weddle said, referring to the amazing recuperative powers of the Marvel super hero.

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