It is a campaign season, but Dean Pees wasn't in the mood for ducking any questions about his defense, one of the worst in the NFL.
He didn't mince words.
"It makes me sick," said Pees, the first-year Ravens defensive coordinator, whose group is ranked 26th in the league. "It makes me sick is the best way I can put it. It really does. It's up to me and it's up to our staff to get this thing corrected."
He is right. The Ravens stink.
They are allowing 396.7 yards and 19.7 points a game. They are ranked No. 22 in pass defense, giving up 260.2 yard per game, and they have the No. 26-ranked run defense with a 136.5 average.
That's unheard of in Baltimore, where the priorities have always been to run the ball and to shut it down.
The Ravens can't stop anybody, only themselves. After allowing more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, it is fair to ask about the problems.
Is it the scheme, the players or the coaches — or all three?
"One of the things that we have to do — and we have to do a better job of it as a staff, it goes across the board, it's the players, but it's the staff just as much and it falls on me — is just do better fundamentals," Pees said. "It isn't about the calls. If you don't play the call fundamentally correct, it doesn't really matter what the call is. It doesn't matter whether it's a pressure, not a pressure, three-man rush, four-man rush, five-man rush — it does not matter. So, we have to get better at technique."
Pees won't throw any players under the bus, but some of the team's top defensive draft picks during the last couple of seasons haven't played well.
It's always a gamble when you lose veterans like outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding, but the good teams replace them.
From the start of training camp, the Ravens haven't seen much progress out of outside linebacker Sergio Kindle or third-year defensive tackles Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody.
In fact, they have been replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who basically missed two of the last three seasons with injury, and second-year defensive end Pernell McPhee, who has suffered several leg injuries since the end of last season.
They don't get off blocks, either.
Before he got hurt last week, inside linebacker Ray Lewis was having the worst season of his 17-year career, and fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain has missed more tackles this season than he missed all of last year.
Pees should institute a new rule: If you can't maintain lane integrity and get off blocks, then you have to occupy two linemen and keep them off linebackers.
There were times last week when the Ravens blitzed and the linebackers crashed into the backs of linemen who were in the same gaps.
The Ravens are missing a lot of tackles, too. But it just hasn't happened in the last two games. They were missing them in the preseason.Back then, it was assumed the Ravens would improve based on reputation.
It hasn't happened. It might change now.
"It's up to the coaches to No. 1 — for me as the coordinator — to put them in a position to make the tackles," Pees said. "That's No. 1, and then No. 2, if we see something in practice that's maybe just a run by and I acted like I got him and didn't really break down and get him, that's on us as coaches to stop it right there. That wasn't good enough. That wasn't good enough, we have to come back and do it, because if you allow it to happen then, when it happens in the game, don't blame the player for that. You had a chance to correct it during the week and didn't get it corrected."
The Ravens have had problems with pass defense, too. They have failed to get a consistent pass rush unless they blitz. Both cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams were picked on consistently early in the season, and neither is very physical in jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Blitzing can cover up some problems, but eventually teams have to win one-on-one matchups. Pees said he has the talent to succeed.
"We do, and we also have the talent to be better than what we are playing — that's the biggest point," he said. "We aren't playing up to what we are capable of playing, whether we have guys out or not. Certainly, when Sizz [Terrell Suggs] is out — sure that's different — when Ray [Lewis] is out, when Lardarius [Webb] is out, but we have enough talent to succeed. We just have to play better."
Pees has some big shoes to fill in his position. Before him, there was Chuck Pagano, and before Paganao, were Greg Mattison, Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis.
As this group falters, more and more fingers are pointed at Pees.