Ravens’ run defense still searching for answers
These are strange days in the AFC North.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost on Thursday night in Tennessee when their defense deserted them late — Pittsburgh was unable to hold a lead against Matt Hasselbeck and co., then allowed Hasselbeck to move his team into position for a game-winning field goal as well.
And things have not been much better for Baltimore’s once-dominant defense (though the Ravens’ 4-1 record compared to Pittsburgh’s 2-3 mark make that a little easier to live with).
The overarching issue for Baltimore: An inability to stop the run. The Ravens finished fifth in the NFL against the run in 2010 and sixth last year; heading into Sunday, they were ranked No. 20 — and that was before the Cowboys rushed for 227 yards in Week 6, with DeMarco Murray racking up 93, Felix Jones adding 92 and third- and fourth- stringers Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar getting in on the fun too. The Ravens held on, 31-29, but in spite of its run defense.
Kansas City tallied 214 yards rushing on Baltimore last Sunday, but the Ravens survived that meltdown by forcing four turnovers in a 9-6 win.
A lot of the focus regarding the Ravens’ run-defense issues has centered on veteran LB Ray Lewis, who slimmed down this offseason. He simply has not been the same player in 2012, frequently getting blown back on run plays, despite a team-leading 36 tackles heading into Sunday.
The Cowboys have not hesitated to run up the gut, either — something teams were reluctant to do when Lewis was in his prime.
But it’s not all Lewis’ fault, and the Ravens’ issues were magnified further on Sunday by a pair of injuries: one to CB Lardarius Webb, the other to NT Haloti Ngata. Webb appeared to bang knees with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, and he was ruled out for the game with a sprain after being helped off the field. Ngata joined Webb in the locker room with a reported shoulder injury, though he later returned.
Regardless, the Ravens already find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford any more injuries. Terrell Suggs’ offseason Achilles tear obviously delivered a huge blow to their defense, and he was arguably the team’s best run defender in 2011.
Of course, for all that, the Ravens still sit in first place in the AFC North and took a 17-10 lead to halftime against Dallas on Sunday. But you have to believe its porous run defense will catch up to Baltimore at some point.