Ravens focused on ball security vs. Giants

Ravens have second-most fumbles in NFL this preseason

August 27, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens play their third preseason game against the New York Giants on Saturday night.

As far as the Ravens' offense is concerned, the biggest opponent at M&T Bank Stadium is itself.

Fumbling has become the latest trouble spot this summer after the Ravens put the ball on the ground eight times in two games. That breaks down to one fumble every 17 plays.

The Ravens' offense was expected to be electric this season. So far, it's short-circuited.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron made it clear to coaches, players and even the media that holding onto the ball has become the priority.

Without being asked a question by reporters, Cameron stood in front of reporters Thursday and said, "First thing we need to work on Saturday night is ball security. We think we emphasize it enough, but obviously we haven't. We're going to try to get that corrected. That'd be our No. 1 goal coming out of the game Saturday night. We've got to find a way to be aggressive and still take care of the football. After that, everything is going to be a plus."

The surprising part about the Ravens' fumbling is they were among the best at not doing so last season.

The Ravens fumbled 19 times last season (losing nine), which was sixth-best in the NFL and ranked as the fewest in team history. Now, they have the second-most fumbles in the league this preseason.

How important is holding onto the ball? In the past five seasons, the Ravens have had double-digit losses when they've had double-digit fumbles lost in a season.

Asked if he expected fumbles to be a problem as the Ravens work into the regular season, coach John Harbaugh said, "Well, it better not be if we want to win games. There's nothing more important to us."

Harbaugh added, "You can't handcuff the guys either. You can't sit out there and lay on the ball either. We want guys to be aggressive, and we want them to protect the football. That's what you strive for."

There has been equal blame when it comes to losing the ball. The Ravens who've fumbled this preseason are: Marc Bulger (twice), Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Donte' Stallworth, Jalen Parmele, Troy Smith and Curtis Steele.

Rice's fumble raised eyebrows the most because of his recent history. He fumbled in three of the last five regular-season games last season and coughed it up again in the red zone in the divisional playoff game at Indianapolis.

"If it continues, it'll concern me," Cameron said of Rice. "Right now, it doesn't concern me."

Rice only fumbled once in his rookie season and none in the first 11 games of 2009.

In total, he has lost the ball four times in 472 career touches (carries and catches), an average of one in every 118 touches. That's worse than Tennessee's Chris Johnson (one in every 175) but much better than Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (one in every 49).

When Rice fumbled against the Redskins, his elbow went from the side of his body, which left the back end of the football exposed. The Ravens have talked to their leading rusher about tucking that elbow against his body.

"It's a mindset," Rice said. "I carried the ball maybe 900 times in college, and on one hand I can count how many times I [fumbled].

Rice added, "The NFL is a lot different. You're playing against better players with better technique. It's just as easy as me saying I need to read a block better. A lot of mine are when I'm going down, and I can get that fixed. I don't have to fight for extra yards. I don't have to stay up. I've got to get what I can get, and get down from there."

Ball security is such a focus for the Ravens that they conduct a study each year where they review every turnover from the previous season.

In many years, team officials found that it's the second or third player to the ball that most likely forced the fumble. What the Ravens discovered this year is the first defender hitting the ball-carrier usually forced the ball loose.

"The technique we use really shouldn't be affected by that," Cameron said. "The bottom line is it's one hand until you can't secure it with one hand. Then, it's two. And then it's take care of the ball any way you can. Get us to the next down."

From the first drill of the first practice of the week, the Ravens have stressed holding onto the ball.

The team tied a huge rubber band to one goal post and attached a football to the other end. The players on offense had to run and stretch for a cone at the goal line while the ball was being pulled back by the rubber band.

"When you carry the ball, you're carrying this entire state, all the Raven fans, [and] the entire organization," Cameron said. "I think we've got the technique squared away, but I think now we've just got to develop a mindset that under no circumstances, regardless of the hit, are we going to turn the ball over."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

A look at the Ravens' fumbles the past five seasons:

Year ; Fumbles ; Fumbles lost; Record

2005 ; 28 ; 15 ; 6-10 ;

2006 ; 21 ; 9 ; 13-3 ;

2007; 35 ; 26 ; 5-11 ;

2008; 28 ; 9 ; 11-5 ;

2009; 19 ; 9 ; 9-7 ;

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