It was probably fitting for the Ravens' much-maligned defense that on an afternoon when they might have played their best game of the season against the pass, they turned in one of their worst against the run.
In a 15-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens allowed Ryan Tannehill to complete 9 of 19 passes for 86 yards. But afterward, they lamented the 137 rushing yards that they surrendered and the one big play that Tannehill did make: a 38-yard touchdown strike to rookie DeVante Parker late in the second quarter.
"Overall, we're just trying to win games," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "If we ain't winning games, it doesn't mean anything. They scored a touchdown on our defense today. No matter how bad we beat them, they still scored a touchdown and that touchdown cost us."
Otherwise, the Ravens passing defense played a nearly-flawless game. Tannehill entered the game averaging 271.9 passing yards per game and having thrown seven touchdown passes and two interceptions over the previous three game.
But he never was able to get on track. He completed just three passes for 19 total yards in the second half. Jarvis Landry, who had been fifth in the NFL with 76 catches, finished with just two catches for five yards, as the Ravens played a good part of the game with four cornerbacks — Smith, Lardarius Webb, Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington — on the field.
"We've been playing better, we haven't been giving up a lot of big plays as of late. But at the same time, we're still not winning games on defense and we believe we have a group to win games on defense," Smith said. "When we start doing that, that's when you'll see a little more bravado from us."
Before Sunday, the fewest net passing yards the Ravens allowed this season were 96 by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mike Vick in Week 4. But Tannehill set a new season low (82 net yards — he was sacked once for a 4-yard loss) against a defense that entered the day ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass.
"I think our secondary is starting to play the way you envision them playing with the type of discipline and eyes and those kind of things," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our defensive coaches did a really good job of adjusting as we had to kind of figure out what direction they were going to do. We kind of knew they were going to run the ball, but we felt like we still had to defend some of the spread stuff."
Following a week during which they fired their offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, and following a game in which they were held to 12 total rushing yards by the New York Jets, the Dolphins unsurprisingly came out running the ball. What was surprising was that the NFL's 27th-ranked run offense had significant success.
The Dolphins rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries, the third most the Ravens have surrendered this year. Lamar Miller, who gained 113 yards on 20 carries, also became the third running back this season to gain over 100 yards against the Ravens' now-12th-ranked run defense.
Miami called runs on seven of its first 11 plays, and they had some success, especially after Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams temporarily left the game with an undisclosed injury after the first drive.
The Ravens stiffened against the run and held Miller to 40 yards on the ground following halftime. They also made what might have been the game's biggest play when safety Kendrick Lewis punched the ball out of Miller's hands on the running back's 17-yard run with less than 41/2 minutes to play.
Courtney Upshaw recovered the ball and the Ravens, trailing 15-13, took over on the Dolphins 41-yard line. However, after two short runs by Buck Allen and an incomplete pass by Matt Schaub on third down, Justin Tucker missed the go-ahead, 55-yard field-goal attempt.
"We just have to finish it and try and get some points," Ravens rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "On defense, we did a good job of keeping the yardage down. But we can't give up points. They had the one big play, the [38-yard] touchdown play-action pass right before the half. It's just a momentum swing. We have to get more big plays on defense."