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Ravens vie to fix struggling 26th-ranked defense


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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New host of talent helping Ravens defense recover from tough early stretch

New host of talent helping Ravens defense recover from tough early stretch

BALTIMORE — Just under two weeks ago, neither Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort or Jihad Ward were on the Ravens roster. 

On Sunday, the three of them contributed to the defense much more than anyone would have thought a few weeks, or days, ago. 

Through two games, it’s fair to say that the new additions are working out.

“I give the credit to them,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Our coaches have done a great job, obviously. And the good thing is, they’re veteran players. So they’ve been coached, they know how to play schemes. They know how they fit certain fronts.”

Bynes was a free agent that didn’t have a team from March to October, when the Ravens came calling. He had an interception last week in Pittsburgh and tipped a pass which led to an interception on Sunday against the Bengals.

Fort was released by the Eagles at the end of September and brought onto the Ravens roster three days later. He played mostly special teams last week, but saw an increase in defensive snaps against the Bengals. 

Both linebackers, Bynes and Fort were brought in to help fortify the Ravens run defense. 

Ward, a defensive lineman, was signed on Oct. 7 and immediately made active in his first game in Baltimore. Ward and Fort each had two combined tackles. 

“I’ve been on the field plenty of times, just keep it simple, just ball,” Ward said. “Just do what I’ve got to do. Give it all I got. Just show my respect to let them know me, that I’m a Raven. Just keep hustling to the ball, do what else we’ve got to do.”

The trio has come in and made an immediate impact on a Ravens defense that struggled through the first three weeks. 

While none of the new additions have been game-changers, they’ve filled their roles admirably in the best way they could.

“We need more vets in the NFL,” Pernell McPhee said with a chuckle. “They want to go young now, the NFL wants to go young, they want to cut all of us out. It is all good, but that is what happens when you get guys that know how to play the game and have been in the game a long time.”

All of the new additions downplayed the difficulty of learning the playbook, since they’ve been in the league for a few years now. 

Teammates have raved about how they’ve come in and done their jobs, too. 

There might not be a ton of game-changing plays from them yet, but for now, they’ve been exactly what the Ravens defense needed.

“They’re proud to be here,” Harbaugh said. “They want to be here and they’re playing at a high level for us. And really, just what we needed at the right time.”


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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson set the tone for Sunday’s game on the Ravens' first drive of the afternoon. 

He rushed just twice, one of which went for a touchdown, but had 57 yards on the game-tying opening drive. 

Jackson finished with 152 yards on the ground — a career high — to carry the Ravens to a 23-17 win over the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“I take advantage, like I said before, and I’m trying to win at the end of the day,” Jackson said after the game. “If I’ve got to run, I’ve got to do it and today that’s what it was. Sometimes I had to pass. Sometimes I had to run.”

He did throw for 236 yards and completed 21 of 33 passes, too. But the story was his legs, which kept the Bengals off-balance all day.

“Lamar was able to get out and run because of the way they were playing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were playing kind of spill defense. They really didn’t want us to run the ball up inside with our running backs, and that opened up some other things."

Jackson now has 460 rushing yards on the season and is on pace for over 1,200. He’s also on pace for just over 4,000 passing yards.

His dual-threat ability has flummoxed nearly every team the Ravens have played this season. Jackson has had over 300 scrimmage yards in all but one (last week in against the Steelers) of the Ravens' games. 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. We’ve played a couple of good athletes. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

Cincinnati sold out to stop the interior run, and Jackson and the rest of the Baltimore running attack burned the Bengals on the outside. 

Jackson’s elusiveness was never more evident than on the Ravens' last full drive of the game. The Ravens received the ball with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter and a 20-10 lead. They didn’t give the ball back to the Bengals until there was just over three minutes to play.

“I catch myself on the sideline stretching because, you know, they’ll be holding the ball for a minute and we’ve got to stay warm,” Matthew Judon said. “He picks us up in crucial times and keeps getting first downs. It’s hard, man. You can’t cover everybody and keep a spy on him [at] all times.”

The nine minute, 46 second drive, highlighted by a 16-yard Jackson scramble on 3rd and 14, put away any realistic chance the Bengals had of pulling off an upset.

It capped off a historic day for Jackson and his place in the NFL record books. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards and register at least 200 yards passing in a regular season game.

The Bengals sold out to stop interior rushes and mostly took away big passing plays from the Ravens. Jackson just made the Bengals pick their poison when it came to choosing what to stop. 

And Jackson made Cincinnati realized that whatever it chose was still poison.

“He was cutting it back, throwing outside and running around,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He was just having fun on us, and that’s what you never want to have done.”