A day after the Ravens allowed the Cleveland Browns to accumulate more than 500 yards of offense and journeyman quarterback Josh McCown to set numerous team records, coach John Harbaugh vowed to explore all avenues to fix an underperforming defense.
He hinted at adjustments in schemes and personnel after getting an opportunity to digest Sunday's 33-30 overtime loss to Cleveland, but one thing he said that he's not considering is making any coaching changes with Dean Pees and the defensive staff.
"No way. Our coaches are doing a great job," Harbaugh said Monday. "We've just got to collectively find a way to finish games and get the job done. We've got tough challenges that we're facing, but we've got just the men for the job right here."
With his team 1-4 and in last place in the AFC North, Harbaugh struck a positive tone Monday even with his defense in the midst of arguably one of the worst stretches in franchise history. Through the first five games, the Ravens have surrendered 137 points, the most that they've ever allowed during that span.
The Ravens, who play the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Levi's Stadium, rank 24th in the NFL in points allowed per game (27.4), 25th in passing yards allowed per game (278.2) and 24th in total yards allowed per game (378.6).
Pees' group might have reached a nadir Sunday when they allowed the Browns to score 24 points in the game's final 25 minutes, erasing deficits of 14-3, 21-9 and 27-22 in the process. The 24 points Cleveland scored spanning the third quarter through overtime equaled its high against the Ravens for an entire game over the previous 14 meetings.
McCown completed 36 passes, the most ever against the Ravens by an opposing quarterback, and threw for 457 yards, the third most the Ravens have allowed. His performance came just weeks after the Ravens allowed Oakland's second-year quarterback Derek Carr to throw for 351 yards and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to throw for 383. The defense's weekly struggles have spurred calls for wholesale changes, but Harbaugh doesn't believe they are necessary.
"We definitely believe in what we're doing," he said. "We definitely have confidence in the players that we have, in the coaches that we have and in the schemes that we're running. But you also look for ways to improve and get better, so we're looking at schemes, we're looking at things that we can teach a little bit differently, the way we're playing technique in the defensive line, the way we're playing technique in the back end. But more importantly, we want to play the things right all the time. We want to chase perfection with what we're doing. That's the thing we haven't done."
The Ravens have had myriad problems on both sides of the ball, but the team's issues closing games have figured prominently. In losses to the Browns, Bengals and Raiders, the Ravens held fourth-quarter leads, and against the Denver Broncos, they led late in the third quarter.
"Just like the last two losses, it's on the defense," inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said after Sunday's loss. "We played with the lead for a while, gave up big plays and at the end, just got to finish. We keep saying that, but we've got to do it."
The Ravens have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush, and poor tackling, coverage issues and communication breakdowns have been weekly occurrences. The Ravens also rank 31st in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing conversions 49.4 percent of the time. The Browns went 12-for-19 on third down Sunday.
"We were on the field for 90 plays on defense," Harbaugh said. "When you're on the field for 90 plays, there's going to be an accumulated number of missed tackles and plays that those guys make, because the odds are against you."
Harbaugh, though, reiterated that the team's inability to hold late leads isn't just on the defense. The decisive points in Week 1 came on a late third-quarter interception thrown by Joe Flacco that Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib returned for a touchdown. The Ravens have also settled for field goals at different times late in games, rather than scoring touchdowns that might have put the game away.
"Let's come up with some ideas where we could score a few more points, get a few more first downs," Harbaugh said. "We got to be better on third down on both sides. We got to be better in the red zone on both sides. We've got to find ways to do that.
"You can't just throw up your hands and say, 'Hey, we can't do this right.' We can do this right, and we're going to do it right. I told them in the locker room [Sunday] night, I said, 'We're going to play the way we play. We know what it looks like. We all understand. We have a vivid picture about the way we expect to play here.' And every guy in that room understands it — coach and player."
Still, the Ravens might need some defensive reinforcements. In the Browns game, they lost rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil (groin) and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and Will Davis (knee). Davis is out for the season with a torn ACL, while the status of Dumervil and Webb for Sunday's game is up in the air.
They've already been playing without outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Chris Canty (calf).
Harbaugh acknowledged that looking at internal and external options is of "heightened emphasis with our situation this week." He specifically mentioned the possibility of adding a free-agent cornerback or promoting a cover guy, like Charles James or Asa Jackson, off the practice squad. Hours after he spoke, industry sources confirmed that the Ravens signed ex-San Francisco 49ers cornerback Shareece Wright.
But beyond that, he insisted that the Ravens won't panic or make a ton of changes.
"We don't need to play harder; we need to play better," Harbaugh said. "We don't need to coach harder, we need to coach better. And we have to find a way to make the difference. It's making plays. It's calling plays that give guys a chance to make plays in critical situations that get you over the hump. We've done it one game, we had a chance to do it in four other games, and we need to do it more often."