Not great yet: Defense doesn't come through in clutch

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens have a good defense, but they haven't earned the title of great in 2008.

Even though the Ravens held Tennessee to 210 yards of offense, including 47 rushing, great defenses don't allow teams to produce 11-play, 80-yard game-winning drives in the final minutes.

Great defenses don't get beat by a scrubby quarterback in Kerry Collins and second-string tight ends named Bo Scaife. Great defenses put pressure on quarterbacks or cause fumbles in crunch time.

When the game is on the line, great defenses make big plays, and the Ravens didn't come up with any in the final minutes of the game.

"You pride yourself on being a big-time player, you have to try to make those types of plays," Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott said. "I let an opportunity get away from myself, and I'm sure there are other players scratching their heads, wishing and [wondering] what they could've done to make a play."

Actually, the Ravens had stopped Tennessee on third-and-10 at the Titans' 20-yard line with 5:50 left in the game, but outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was called for roughing the passer for a blow to the head.

It was a terrible call, maybe because Suggs didn't hear the whistle that stopped the play, and it wasn't that hard of a hit.

But great defenses would have rebounded. Great defenses would have taken the game away from the Titans.

"Obviously this is a very disappointing loss, one that we are hurting about," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We should have won the football game but didn't win the football game. We should have found a way to win the game, but we didn't."

Toughest test to come

Speaking of Harbaugh, we'll find out more about his coaching abilities soon. It's much easier to coach when you're winning but harder when you lose, especially because the Ravens have outplayed their past two opponents.

The Ravens jumped on board with Harbaugh when they went 2-0, but it will be interesting to see how Harbaugh and the Ravens handle their next six games, five of them on the road.

This will be Harbaugh's toughest test so far as coach.

The Ravens are on the brink of being good, or they could lose enthusiasm.

Just a bad day

Please, I don't want to hear any more "he's a rookie" excuses for those two interceptions Joe Flacco threw yesterday. Both occurred when Flacco was rolling to his right, and he could have just thrown the ball away.

Instead, he just didn't get enough on the passes. You can't use the "rookie" excuse because I'm sure coaches told Flacco to throw the ball away if there wasn't an open receiver when he rolled out at the University of Delaware.

And they tell quarterbacks that at Towson, Morgan State and even Montgomery-Rockville.

We'll just say the rookie had a bad day.

By the way, I'm wondering whether if Flacco was older, would he have had the liberty to change plays when the Titans started hitting the Ravens with so many run blitzes with 7:37 left in the game?

Walker holds his own

Reserve cornerback Frank Walker, who replaced injured starter Fabian Washington, had a few rough opening moments against the Titans, but he made several plays during the game.

It took the Titans awhile to go after Walker once he replaced Washington with 2:55 left in the third quarter, but he did well. Overall, though, the secondary remains the weakest unit of the defense.

Confusing the Titans

At least twice, the Ravens had defensive linemen come clean off the line of scrimmage without being blocked.

Both times, Marques Douglas and Trevor Pryce made tackles in the backfield.

That scenario has played out in all the games this season, and it's probably because defensive coordinator Rex Ryan changes fronts so many times and has so many players moving around that it confuses offenses.

The Soft Award

The Soft Award goes to Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton for not putting his head down and going for the first down after a 6-yard catch to open the second quarter.

All Clayton needed was 1 more yard, but he chose to run out of bounds. The only other contenders were Titans tight end Alge Crumpler and running back Chris Johnson, who ran more east and west than north and south inside the red zone.

Offense working on the run

You can criticize the Ravens' offense for being lackluster, but it is doing exactly what it needs to do. It is trying to establish the run and slowly bring along a rookie quarterback.

It might look a lot like last year's offense, but the tempo and variety of play-calling is different. If you want a wide-open offense, tune in next year.

Top hits

The best hits of the day were Johnson running into a wall, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, in the first quarter, and Scott decking Titans wide receiver Brandon Jones on a short pass midway through the fourth.

Scott had an interesting perspective on how both teams prepared for the game. There were 21 penalties between the teams and lots of pushing and shoving and mini fights. It was reminiscent of Titans-Ravens games in the early 2000s.

At one point, the Titans were fighting among themselves.

"A lot of our players weren't here for that, but for maybe Ray [Lewis ] and Chris McAlister, so on our end we didn't prepare that way, 'OK, this is a grudge match,' " Scott said.

"We just looked at is as a tough opponent and an opportunity for our defense to measure up against their defense and play that way," he said. "But for them, it may have been different because of the bad blood between Jeff Fisher and [Brian] Billick. So I'm assuming they had a different mind-set preparing for the game."

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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