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Brutal Ravens defense a shell of its former self

Remember the old days?

Remember when the Ravens played smash-mouth defense? Remember when opposing teams practically hyperventilated at the sight of Ray Lewis coming out of the tunnel and doing his crazy pre-game dance?

Remember when going up against Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata meant you were in for an alley fight if you wore an opposing jersey?

Call it the Ravens mystique. Call it whatever you want. But you can forget about this team scaring anyone right now, at least on defense. Uh-uh. Not the way this team is playing. And not with the injuries it's racking up.

You can go with the old cliché that a win is a win after this one. And the Ravens have played well enough to get off to a 5-1 start, no small feat. But the Ravens defenders sure weren't celebrating after Sunday's narrow 31-29 victory over the Cowboys, a win that wasn't sealed until Dan Bailey's 51-yard field goal try in the final seconds went wide left.

"I'm [ticked] off," safety Bernard Pollard said when it was over. "We gotta get better."

Oh, they better get better. This was one ugly performance by the defense. And losing cornerback Lardarius Webb to a knee injury — John Harbaugh said it could be an ACL injury — won't help.

Where do we begin?

Let's start with the fact that the Cowboys gouged the Ravens for 227 rushing yards, the most ever given up by this team.

And it came a week after the Ravens were bullied for 214 rushing yards in their 9-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Our name is on 214 last week and 227 now," Pollard said. "It [stinks]."

The defensive line got pushed around all afternoon by the Cowboys. The pass rush was almost non-existent. The Ravens sacked Tony Romo only once and that didn't come until the fourth quarter when Ngata, gimping around on a bad knee, finally got to the Dallas quarterback.

And the linebackers — especially Ray Lewis in the middle — got steam-rolled like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.

Did we mention all the missed tackles? We should probably mention them, since the Ravens defenders seemed incapable of wrapping up the Cowboys' running backs and receivers all afternoon.

Dallas running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones rushed for 185 yards combined as they broke tackle after tackle. And the Cowboys' terrific wide-out, Dez Bryant , caught 13 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns while frequently shaking free from initial hits.

"We were going for the knockout blow today," said linebacker Albert McClellan. "A lot of people were coming in trying to take the kill-shot."

Well, guess what? The knock-out blow never came. The kill shots weren't working, either.

To his credit, Harbaugh didn't attempt to soft-soap this stinker of a game by his defense, especially when the non-existent pass rush and poor tackling was brought up.

"You're exactly right," he said. "Those were the two things that were really a problem, and I was hoping those things wouldn't show up. I'm surprised about the tackling. We're historically a very good tackling team. And we were not a good tackling team today.

"... That's nothing that our players won't tell you. They're going to tell you we've got to tackle better, and they're going to tell you we've got to play our run defense better at the point of attack. Those are things we're going to have to get better at, especially this week."

Oh, yeah. If the defense plays like that next week against Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium, the game could be over by halftime.

Since the beginning of training camp, we've talked about how this could be the year the Ravens' offense assumes the dominant role in helpng this team win games.

The vaunted defense, after all, showed signs of slipping. Lewis and Reed, the two future Hall of Famers, were aging. Suggs, the team's best pass rusher, was out until November at the earliest with a torn Achilles tendon.

Still, it's astonishing to see how far this defense has fallen. It's astonishing to see the D-line pushed back on its heels and the linebackers trampled and opposing running backs having big days against this team.

And now with Webb potentially out for the season and Lewis nursing a triceps injury, the Ravens' mystique could take another hit.

"We're a tough football team," Pollard said. "No one can question that. But we gotta get better."

A lot better. Even at 5-1.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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