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Is the Ravens' run defense becoming an issue at bad time?

Is the Ravens' run defense becoming an issue at bad time?

Is the Ravens’ run defense becoming an issue at a critical time?

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging 142.6 yards per carry in his last five games. If the Ravens can’t stop Bell during the Ravens-Steelers Christmas afternoon showdown in Pittsburgh, Bell could run the Ravens right out of a playoff spot.

Ryan Mathews of the Eagles gashed the Ravens’ run defense Sunday for 128 yards on 20 carries. So are the Ravens concerned? Not enough for defensive end Lawrence Guy to lose confidence.

“We’ll figure it out watching the film and get it right,” Guy said. “I could tell you this, it’s not going to happen again.”

However, Bell isn’t easy to contain, and the Ravens’ defense may be feeling the impact of a demanding season. The team’s leading tackler, inside linebacker Zach Orr, kept playing Sunday after suffering a stinger, but Orr has carried a heavy workload. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been playing with a torn biceps for weeks.

The Ravens are still ranked second in the NFL against the run, yielding 82.1 yards per game, trailing only the Cowboys (80.9). However, the Ravens’ front seven was neutralized by the Eagles, who provided Mathews with gaping holes to run through.

“I think they did a good job of scheming us up and just blocking us,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “It’s a stretch-zone scheme, and they were doing a great job of reaching out guys and cutting us off on the backside. We’re going to have to work on that, because we could see that next week (against the Steelers)."

Surely, the Steelers noticed the success the Eagles had running the football. The Ravens believe they are capable of containing Bell. But their run defense needs to be far better than it was on Sunday.

MORE RAVENS: Grading Baltimore's offense vs. Eagles

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

Former Ravens and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement from coaching Monday afternoon, just a day after Tennessee lost in the AFC Championship Game to Kansas City.

Pees, at age 70, had just finished his 47th year of coaching. He had previously been a coordinator for the Titans, Ravens and Patriots at the NFL level. He began coaching at the University of Findlay (OH) in 1979 as a defensive coordinator where he rose through the college ranks. 

Pees was in Baltimore from 2010-2017, where he started as a linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. He won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.

During his time as a coordinator, the Ravens ranked in the top 10 of scoring defenses three times, where he saw franchise greats like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed end their careers.

Pees’ defense in Tennessee this season stiffened down the stretch, as it allowed just 25 total points in the first two playoff games against New England and Baltimore. The Titans lost 35-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, Pees led his defenses to a top 12 finish in points allowed.

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