Despite win over Browns, Ravens defense has big problems

Though it was a win, the weaknesses were glaring Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium

September 21, 2014|Mike Preston

CLEVELAND -- The Ravens secondary couldn't cover and tackle — and gave up a long pass that will be on every NFL highlight package this week. The linebackers had trouble getting off blocks and holding the edge on running plays. The defensive line wasn't much of a factor, either.

And the Ravens still won.

On a day when their defense was atrocious, the Ravens won because they played a team that always finds a way to lose. And if they don't find one, the Cleveland Browns will invent one.

As the Ravens walked out of FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday evening, they realized they were lucky to win and the best team might have lost.

"It wasn't pretty," said defensive tackle Brandon Williams. "We came together at the end and came out with the W, but it was ugly."

That's putting it mildly. The Ravens have had that "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy in the first two games of the season, but the defense got worn out for three quarters against the Browns. For the game, Cleveland had 375 yards of total offense and the Ravens made Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer look like Bernie Kosar.

The Ravens would have lost except Cleveland couldn't put together any drives on their last three possessions. The Browns also missed two field goals and were called for having 12 men on the field three times. Hoyer couldn't connect on a short pass across the middle with about two minutes left in the game which would have sealed the victory.

Yes, same old Browns, but these weren't the same old Ravens, especially on defense. Well, maybe they were when the Ravens had cornerbacks named Donny Brady and DeRon Jenkins and safeties named Vashone Adams and Stevon Moore.

What is scary is that the Ravens can put some of the dismal performance on youth, but they also have some veterans who played poorly. So, you don't really know if Sunday was an aberration or a sign of things to come.

"Big plays are always going to hurt you and that was the case today," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens gave up passing plays of 40, 43 and 23 yards. But the Browns didn't play long ball. In fact, most of Cleveland's passes were 10 to 20 yards. The Ravens cornerbacks, though, couldn't cover those and then couldn't tackle.

None was more glaring than the 70-yard pass from Hoyer to receiver Taylor Gabriel with 10:07 left in the game that will be on the highlight reels. Not only was Gabriel wide open, but he fell at the Ravens' 28-yard line. Instead of touching him and ending the play, Ravens safety Matt Elam ran around him, and watched Gabriel get up and run 20 more yards to the Ravens' 9.

What happened?

"It was just a miscommunication, we weren't on the same page," Elam said about the breakdown in coverage.

But why didn't you tackle him?

"He got up so fast, and we were still talking about the play," Elam said.

Huh?

"It was a double move, it looked like it was kind of a post, corner, post that got us," Harbaugh said. "We'll have a chance to talk about that tomorrow. That was a bad play."

It was shameful. But Asa Jackson missed tackles and so did fellow cornerback Chykie Brown. Elam had his glaring mistake and weak safety Darian Stewart appeared to be frozen at times.

The Ravens have no thumper in the middle.

The Browns ran for 91 yards on 29 carries and the Ravens appeared to be in good position, but they didn't shed blockers. End Chris Canty and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw failed to hold the edge as the Browns got outside numerous times.

As far as pressure, the Ravens got very little on Hoyer. The Browns did run a lot of plays that required him to release the ball quickly, but there were times when he had light years to pass.

"We tried to blitz, mostly on third downs, but you have to earn the right to blitz with what you do on second down," Williams said. "They did surprise us a little bit, but we came in at halftime and worked on it. They had a great game plan, but ours was better at the end."

The Ravens are a banged-up team. Canty was limping around with a big ice bag wrapped around his leg in the locker room. Jimmy Smith, the team's best cornerback, limped most of the game.

And then there is starting cornerback Lardarius Webb. He missed most of training camp and the first two games with a back injury. He looked slow and tired Sunday, more like a player still struggling with injury than trying to knock off some rust.

"We were trying to get him back in practice," Harbaugh said. "I don't really think you can push something like that. He hasn't really played much. He is coming off the lower back injury. He is just going to have to get out there and play full speed and get his wheels back, but hopefully we can play him back."

It didn't look good and there was little to get excited about on defense. Harbaugh heaped a lot of praise on the Browns after the game, but the Ravens just really played poorly on defense.

They didn't make any big plays. They had trouble stopping the run and had even more problems with the pass. If the Browns knew how to finish off games, the Ravens would have lost.

"Cleveland is a good football team, they have a good defense, with a good quarterback, two good young running backs and good receivers," Jackson said. "We hunkered down and just played well in the last 20 minutes. From here, we have to come out and play 60 minutes.

"We were fortunate to come out on top in this one."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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