Harbaugh's job one: Rein in those penalties

December 29, 2009|By Mike Preston

In the final quarter of the Chicago Bears game a week ago, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth intercepted a pass. After he was tackled, he ran 40 yards in celebration, drawing a delay-of-game penalty. A few minutes later, Ravens cornerback Frank Walker intercepted a pass. After he was tackled, he threw the ball 40 yards, drawing a delay-of-game penalty.

Those penalties seemed harmless coming against the Bears, but there is no such thing as a meaningless penalty. They were just another small window into a major problem with the Ravens.

A year ago, John Harbaugh was named coach, and he was supposed to clean up the team's discipline problem. We saw it improve in 2009, but heading into 2010, it's not where it needs to be.

The Ravens were penalized 11 times for 113 yards in Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A major reason for the lack of discipline was the loss of former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, now coach of the New York Jets.

Ryan had a voice with the players. He was their friend as well as coach. Ryan was the liaison between Harbaugh and the players, but the Ravens don't have anyone who can bridge the gap now.

The Ravens see Harbaugh as too rah-rah, too much of a college coach who doesn't know how to address the players as men. They think he goes out of his way to show he is in control.

There are a couple of ways Harbaugh can solve the problem. He can change a little and become more personable with his players. Or he can bring in someone who can serve as a buffer between him and the players. Or Harbaugh can just clean house and get rid of some of the whiny, leftover players from the Brian Billick era.

One thing for sure, this situation can't remain status quo because it's not working.

Don't blame officials
Every time the Ravens lose, some of their fans like to blame it on the officials. Those same people are out there again today complaining after the Pittsburgh loss.

But during the previous two weeks, we heard nothing because the Ravens beat up on the Detroit Lions and the Bears.

There is no one to blame for the Ravens' loss except the Ravens.

"It's frustrating," wide receiver Derrick Mason said of the refereeing. "But we're not officiating. All we do is go out there and play football. We can't blame it on anybody but ourselves. We take it for what it is, move on and get ready to go down to Oakland."

Nothing special
The Ravens' special teams had seemed to have gotten over the hump, but in the past two games those units have performed poorly.

The Ravens are still getting bad snaps on extra points, field goals and punts, and the coverage units have allowed some big returns. The Ravens are getting good pushes down the field but fail to get under control when they start zeroing in on the ball carriers.

Defense improving
The Ravens did some nice things on defense against Pittsburgh. They might have blitzed more than in any other game this season, and they sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times. They moved him out of the pocket numerous other times.

The Ravens also did a nice job rotating their coverages to help out Walker, Foxworth and Chris Carr. The only lapse was the blitz call on a third-and-2 from the Ravens' 24-yard line with 44 seconds left in the first half that resulted in a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes off a short hitch pass.

Why was Foxworth blitzing from so far outside, where he had almost no chance of getting to Roethlisberger? The blitz left Holmes open, and he beat safety Dawan Landry for the touchdown.

It was a bad call, but those things happen in a highly competitive game. Still, the Ravens' defense has made some serious strides in the past couple of weeks.

Taking control
I liked the way the Ravens came out and took control of the game in the third quarter. They scored 10 points on their first two drives and kept pounding at the Steelers with running back Ray Rice.

And if it weren't for that possession from hell at the end of the third into the fourth quarter, the Ravens could have easily beaten the Steelers and tucked them away in a nice, little package.

But ...

"I think they hurt us," tight end Todd Heap said of the penalties. "One of the things, when you play a football team like Pittsburgh, you can't have those penalties. You can't let them get back into games, you can't take yourself out of position to score. Those things hurt us."

Welcome to the NFL
Ravens rookie left tackle Michael Oher got his welcome-to-the-NFL moments on Sunday.

Oher has had a strong rookie season, but at times he looked like a giant, old redwood getting chopped down by Pittsburgh's James Harrison and Ziggy Hood.

The Ravens wanted to give him some help, but most of that was going to the right side, where second-year offensive tackle Oniel Cousins was getting worked over by LaMarr Woodley.

By the way, Harrison and Woodley are two really good players.

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