The up-and-down, mostly down, nature of Matt Elam's second NFL season was on full display at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the fourth quarter, the Ravens' strong safety delivered a huge play when he ripped the ball out of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's hands to force an interception by rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
However, Elam missed a season-high five tackles during the Ravens' 27-24 defeat. That included Elam whiffing in the open field on a diving tackle attempt on Sanu during his 48-yard reception in the first quarter.
That kind of inconsistency has defined Elam's season, which began with raised expectations after he moved from free safety to his natural strong safety position. Drafted in the first round out of Florida last year, Elam ranks sixth on the defense with 25 tackles. He has no interceptions, three pass deflections and one forced fumble.
Elam leads all NFL defensive backs with a dozen missed tackles, the product of him frequently going for the big hit instead of a sure stop. Midway through the season, Elam has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 17 of 23 passes (73.9 percent) in his direction for 277 yards and one touchdown for an opposing quarterback rating of 128.4, according to Pro Football Focus, which rates Elam as the second-worst safety in the NFL.
"I feel like it's going well, but other people probably think different," Elam said. "I've got to fine-tune the small things and some technique work and keep on improving. I got to continue to stack days and get better."
Elam also forced a fumble against the Indianapolis Colts when he stripped the football away from running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
"They seem like big plays," Elam said. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help this team win. I feel like people just see those things and elaborate off those things. If it wasn't for those missed tackles, I guess, it would be different.
"There's the good and the bad. It's the league. People are going to make you miss. They get paid, too. I got to keep on improving."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday he's seen progress from Elam, a former consensus All-American for the Gators whose playing time increased to 65 snaps against the Bengals.
"He competed, he fought, and he did his best, made a great play on the strip to get the turnover, which gave us a chance to win the game," Harbaugh said. "Going to that point, it speaks a lot of our guys what we accomplish down the stretch. If you want to look for something, look for that. Do they all need to get better? Absolutely. Every one of our players needs to play better.
"Every one of our coaches needs to coach better, starting with me. We have to find a way to win the game. So, if you're looking for me to disparage a player in a press conference, I'm not going down that road."