It may be time to start worrying about the Ravens' defense

  • Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson makes a leaping grab at the goal line over Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson makes a leaping grab at the… (DOUG KAPUSTIN, MCT )
August 17, 2012|Mike Preston

A week ago, there was little reason for concern because it was only the first preseason game and the Ravens were without star defensive players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (for most of the game).

It's more serious now.

Problems in the defensive secondary resurfaced again Friday night against the Detroit Lions. Last week, first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees blamed some of the problems on a lack of communication.

Against Detroit, that was only part of the problem.

Almost every starter in the secondary missed a couple of tackles, and the Ravens had sloppy technique. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan lit the Ravens up, completing nine of 13 passes for 155 yards, and he finished with a quarterback rating of 103 a week ago.

On Friday night, Detroit's Matthew Stafford was 12 of 17 for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He left after about 25 minutes of work with a QB rating of 145.2.

Opposing quarterbacks are rolling up numbers.

A second straight lackluster performance by the secondary has to be a cause for concern because this group was supposed to lead the Ravens, who have had one of the NFL's top defenses since the turn of the century.

But now there are questions.

Cornerback Cary Williams has been repeatedly picked on and allowed a 57-yard pass down the left side line to Calvin Johnson early in the second period. This wasn't a great move or catch by Johnson, but just a jab step and go.

See ya.

Second-year player Jimmy Smith, who has missed extensive practice time in training camp because of recurring back problems, was supposed to develop into the Ravens' shutdown cornerback, but he didn't resemble that type of player when he gave up an 18-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the second quarter.

Smith had great position, but he didn't look back to locate the ball and knock it down. We'll call that poor ball awareness.

"I think we looked good," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.


"We went in there early and made a bunch of plays to get off the field," he said. "That's always our thought process: We want our defense to start fast, move around fast. You can never let a drive continue by mistakes or penalties. You correct those things and that's what preseason season is all about."

Lewis had a lot of praise for Johnson, who had five catches for 111 yards.

"Listen now. You're talking about a person who probably should be running track, but he chose football," Lewis said. "He is a mismatch problem for a lot of people. The bottom line is you've got to play him and make him earn his check. Today, he earned his money."

Unfortunately for the Ravens, a lot of teams have big-money receivers, including two in the AFC North. Cincinnati has A.J. Green and Pittsburgh has Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. New England signed Brandon Lloyd in the offseason.

Who is going to shut them down?

"We've just got to play," Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said. "We had some good drives, but when it's all said and done, we need to make sure we get off the field. I think next week we will get 21/2, three quarters of action. Coach [John Harbaugh] is kind of saving our legs, and that's good. We've just got to continue to grow as a defense."

If they don't, the Ravens are in trouble. Earlier in training camp both inside linebackers, Lewis and Jameel McClain, said they lost weight to become quicker and faster because the NFL had become pass-happy.

In two preseason games, the Ravens haven't slowed Atlanta or Detroit. Granted, the Ravens haven't gotten much pressure on the quarterbacks, but that's even more reason for them to play better in the secondary.

If they are in position, they have to knock down the pass. Once a receiver catches it, the Ravens have to tackle better.

"I feel good about the way we played in the first half," Harbaugh said. "We had pretty good executions, but overall, we didn't finish. We have to convert on third downs on both sides of the ball — catch the ball, knock it down on defense. Like I said, we basically have to finish plays."

Said Pees: "Communication still isn't where we want it to be. We need to get better and we will. We will work on it every day."

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