Carroll County Times

Ravens struggling to stop the run

OWINGS MILLS - Le'Veon Bell consistently exploited creases in the Ravens' defensive front during Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The week before, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy ran for 120 yards against Baltimore and had several nice-sized gains during the fourth quarter that were key in the Packers holding on to win the game.
The Ravens expected their run defense to be one of their greatest strengths this season with Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Arthur Jones and Marcus Spears along the defensive line, Daryl Smith at inside linebacker and Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw at outside linebacker.
Baltimore was allowing just 3.4 yards per carry through its first three games, which ranked seventh-best in the NFL, but it has had problems stopping the run during the last month.
The Ravens allowed 203 rushing yards in their loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. Lacy averaged more than five yards per carry against them last week. And Bell had 93 yards on Sunday.
Ten of Bell's 19 runs went for a gain of five yards or more, including seven that went for a gain of seven yards or more.
Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said different issues led to the yardage totals being what they were against the Packers and Steelers.
"[But] the yardage is the same, which is not good, which we've got to get corrected," Pees said. "If we're going to be a good defense, we can't let anybody run the ball on us."
But multiple factors have led to the Ravens struggling to stop the run in recent weeks.
Smith has had some problems in the run game. Jones and Spears have as well. Ngata hasn't been the same consistently dominant player that he has been in the past. And there have also been breakdowns that have led to big plays. Against Green Bay for example, inside linebacker Josh Bynes misread a play and made a costly decision to jump inside, which created a gaping hole for Lacy to run through and pick up 17 yards.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith, Jones, Spears, Upshaw and inside linebacker Jameel McClain all graded out poorly against the run versus the Steelers. Ngata didn't, but he received negative grades for his play against both the Packers and the Bills.
As far as Smith, though, he has made some big plays this season, but he has had noticeable problems in the run game during the last month and appeared to be one of the primary players at fault on some of the nice-sized runs by Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
On the Packers' second play from scrimmage, Smith was sealed off on a designed cutback play, which created significant open space for Lacy, who picked up 37 yards.
Versus the Steelers, there was one play early on where Smith jumped inside on a run by Bell, which creating a cutback lane that Bell exploited for eight yards.
Later, Smith was late to fill a hole on a run near Baltimore's goal-line, which Bell took advantage of and picked up seven yards to the Ravens' 4-yard line.
Smith did have nine tackles against Pittsburgh, but five of those came seven yards or more downfield.
But this is a defense that was ranked among the best in the NFL against the run as recently as late September and that limited the Miami Dolphins to just 22 rushing yards in Week 6. And despite any issues in recent weeks, the Ravens are still confident that they have the pieces to be good at stopping the run.
"We still have the same guys up front that were successful in the beginning of the season," Baltimore inside linebacker Arthur Brown said. "We just have to continue to improve as a core if we're going to be successful at stopping the run."