Big plays concern Ravens

Although improved, secondary remains vulnerable to mental lapses

Ravens Gameday

Raevns 26 Bengals 20

November 06, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

You'll have to forgive Dennis Thurman if he's not in a celebratory mood this week.

Although the Ravens improved to 6-2 and earned a two-game lead in the AFC North with a 26-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thurman, the team's secondary coach, seemed less than pleased with what he saw from the players he coaches every week.

"You take the win, but at some point if you want to be an elite team and an elite defense, then you have to be able to stay within the structure of the defense and do what you're coached to do," Thurman said. "We're good for probably 58 or 59 plays a game, but there are those three or four where we break structure or we're not doing what we're asked to do, and it hurts us."

Thurman didn't get any disagreement from cornerback Chris McAlister, who said, "Even though there was only one explosive play at the end of the day, we still have to eliminate people getting behind us because if we keep everything in front of us, nobody will be able to score on us."

To be fair, there were positives for the Ravens. The defense tagged Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer with his worst rating of the season (52.6) and limited him to 195 yards on 12-of-26 passing. Chad Johnson, perhaps Cincinnati's most dangerous receiver, was held to just four catches for 32 yards.

"We came into the game and knew they were going to change it up, make some pressures, play cover-2, and sit back and make us run the ball," said Palmer, who was sacked twice and hurried three times. "When it comes down to it, you've got to make more plays than they did, and we didn't."

Palmer did throw a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (the sixth touchdown pass of at least 25 yards surrendered by the Ravens), but he was also intercepted twice -- one of which was returned for a touchdown by free safety Ed Reed.

"We did some good things," coach Brian Billick acknowledged. "[But] again, we've got to know that we can't let [anyone], particularly a team like this, get the ball behind us."

Besides the Houshmandzadeh score, the Ravens gave up two more big plays yesterday. There was a 71-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Chris Henry that led to a Rudi Johnson 4-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter, and a 26-yard slant by Houshmandzadeh that contributed to a Shayne Graham 31-yard field goal that trimmed the Ravens' lead to six points with 4:01 left in the game.

In the end, those plays didn't burn the Ravens, but Thurman was not content to rest his worries.

"Winning is the No. 1 thing, but you put your team in jeopardy of losing when you're not playing the way you're supposed to play," he said. "If you're not staying focused and disciplined and communicating back there, you get exposed."

But several players in the secondary said the communication breakdowns that had occurred in the 23-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 15 are being reduced, and Reed offered up hope that the unit can continue to work on its problems as the season unfolds.

"It's all part of the game," he said. "It's a long season, and we have a secondary that we know can make the plays when we're supposed to. It's just a matter of time and progressing throughout the season to get better."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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