Commentary: Like Chiefs, Cowboys had Ravens on the run

Remember the big, bad Baltimore defense that had teams abandoning the run by the end of the first quarter and gave up a 100-yard game about as often as Tony Siragusa missed a meal?

No? Understandable. That defense no longer exists and the rest of the NFL is figuring it out.

The Ravens gave up a franchise-worst 227 rushing yards on Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, a team that had been woefully unable to run over the past few weeks. This, after allowing 211 yards on the ground last week to the Kansas City Chiefs from a franchise that had given up a grand total of three 200-yard games to opposing teams in its first 16 seasons of existence.

Yes, as coach John Harbaugh and his players are quick to point out, getting the win is the main thing. The Ravens escaped thanks to a typically self-destructive Cowboys team with questionable game and clock management at the end, and thanks to a windblown 51-yard field goal attempt that drifted wide left. A week after escaping thanks to a couple of 50-50 calls that went their way.

Nobody cares how you win; just that you win. Still, the inability to defend the run is an unfamiliar dilemma for this team and it's of major concern going forward, particularly with injuries piling up on defense.

There were big holes for rotating Cowboys to run through at the line of scrimmage. There were bursts that showed Baltimore defenders to be not quite quick enough. Mostly there were a shocking number of missed tackles.

"I'm surprised about the tackling," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're, historically, a very good tackling team. And we were not a very good tackling team [Sunday]."

Said linebacker Albert McClellan: "We'll probably have some tackling drills coming up this week."

Last week could be explained away. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is one of the best in the league and Kansas City can't do anything else. The Cowboys entered Sunday as the 30th-best running team in the 32-team NFL, averaging just 67 yards per game on 3.4 yards per carry.

But they were committed to the run from the start, obviously having gotten a good look at film from the Ravens-Chiefs game.

"They haven't defended the run as well as they typically have in the past," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "We ran it inside, we ran it outside."

McClelland said the front seven was usually in the right place, but missed tackles resulted in 2- or 3-yard gains turning into bigger runs as the Ravens went for the "kill shot" rather than wrapping up.

There were no huge breakaways. It just seemed Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray (before he got hurt), Phillip Tanner or even Lance Dunbar could gain solid yardage at will. The Cowboys ran 42 times. They gained at least 4 yards on 23 of them, averaging 5.4 yards per carry for the game.

After running for 41 yards last week, Dallas gained 61 on its first drive Sunday, with Murray bouncing off Jameel McClain and going for 28 yards moments before Jones slipped past Ray Lewis, who appeared a step slow on the play, to break loose for a 21-yard touchdown.

"We've just got to execute our job, do our job first, and that's make tackles," said outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. "Once we have a chance to tackle, we have to make the tackle."

Upshaw is just a rookie. He knows a little about the history of this defense, but he was in middle school, high school and the University of Alabama when Lewis & Co. were so dominant against the run.

The Ravens, whose record-setting 2000 defense gave up only 60.6 rushing yards per game on a ridiculous 2.7 yards per carry, have finished among the top five in rushing defense in each of the past six years and ranked first or second in yards allowed per carry in four of the past six seasons.

This year, the Ravens are ranked in the bottom third of the NFL, allowing 136.5 yards per game.

Very un-Ravenlike. And very much a problem, even if the team is 5-1 and in complete control of the AFC North.

The Ravens travel to Houston this Sunday to play the Texans, one of the best teams in the league with one of the top running games.

Arian Foster, the NFL's 2010 rushing champion, probably can't wait.

"They watch film just like we watch film," Upshaw said. "If I was a coach on an opposing team, I would probably look at the film and see somewhere we can run here. But I'm sure we're going to get in tomorrow, go to film and just correct everything."

If they expect to get back to the AFC Championship and perhaps even win a Super Bowl, they'd better.

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