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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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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs.Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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