The Ravens' secondary has been a revolving door this season, and a lack of continuity has certainly contributed to its woes. It was never more glaring than in Sunday's 32-14 loss in San Diego when a struggling Philip Rivers looked more like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning than a quarterback who had thrown five interceptions in his previous three games.
Cornerback Samari Rolle returned after missing six of the past eight games while dealing with the effects and treatment of epilepsy, but Chris McAlister sat out for the fourth time in five games with a recurring knee injury.
Add that to the inconsistent play of Corey Ivy and the inexperience of Derrick Martin, and it leads to mistakes and miscommunication.
"Anytime you put a new moving part in there, it creates a difficulty sometimes," Ravens coach Brian Billick said at his news conference yesterday in Owings Mills. "It is a little problematic when you basically have a new secondary every weekend."
If Rivers did a pretty fair imitation of Brady and Manning in throwing for 249 yards and three touchdowns, the Ravens will get the real things the next two games, Monday night against the New England Patriots followed by a Sunday night game Dec. 9 against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
Low turnover rate
Turnovers also are at the heart of the team's problems this season. The Ravens, who lead the NFL with 19 lost fumbles, aren't effective in taking the ball from their opponents - they're tied for 27th in recovered fumbles with five.
"We expect to create turnovers ourselves," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said after Sunday's game. "It's part of the game. You know there are going to be turnovers, but you do what you can to just give up a field goal or stop them on three-and-outs."
Asked whether the defense presses to create turnovers after the offense loses the ball, Ngata said: "I just feel like we need to go out there and make some plays. Even though we have our backs to the wall, we expect to stop the run or whatever it is that they're trying to do. I don't feel any pressure."
Billick said the Ravens practice techniques such as stripping the ball away in a variety of situations.
"We've done it before. Why aren't we doing it now?" Billick said yesterday. "That's what you try to attack. But when you've done something before, and we've done some things well during the course of the season, you know we are capable of doing that. But then there's the challenge and frustration of, 'Well, why aren't we and what can I do to affect that?'"
The Ravens are 20 1/2 -point underdogs against the Patriots. They might have been an even bigger underdog than the Philadelphia Eagles were going into Sunday's game in Foxboro, Mass. - 24 points - had the Eagles not nearly beaten the Patriots before losing, 31-28.
"The Patriots are playing good football. There's no doubt about it," Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I would never admit defeat, but we've got our hands full next week."
Billick said at his news conference that the only significant injury suffered against the Chargers was linebacker Jarret Johnson's fractured thumb. It was announced during the game that Johnson had left with a concussion.
"We'll see as we go through the week," Billick said about Johnson's status for Monday night. "[The medical staff thinks it] can do some things with it. Obviously, if anyone can play with that kind of pain, it would be Jarret. Not too many tougher."
If Johnson is unable to play, rookie Antwan Barnes would likely get the start. Barnes had been playing as a pass rusher for the injured Trevor Pryce at defensive end.