Mike Preston: Defense has to carry Ravens, and it came up short Sunday

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 23-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

NASHVILLE, TENN. — The only real challenge for the Ravens is for the defense to become great.

That’s the only chance they have of making it into the postseason. The defense is good, but can’t seem to take that final step. The unit can win on most Sunday afternoons if gets some help from the offense.


But on off days the Ravens will lose to a Minnesota, a Chicago or a Jacksonville. On Sunday, the defense was very good but could not finish off the Tennessee Titans. The great defenses can close. When the Chicago Bears of the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and the Ravens’ 2000 defense needed to stop an opponent one last time they delivered.

The Ravens aren’t there yet.


It’s impossible to blame this loss on the defense. The group got better as the game went on. It gave up 144 yards of total offense in the first half and 113 in the second. Four of Tennessee’s five possession in the final two quarters ended in punts or in an interception.

But with 8:56 left in the game and trailing 16-13, the Ravens allowed the Titans to go on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with an 11-yard pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Eric Decker. The drive took 4:58 off the clock.

“There is no room for error if we’re up 35 points or down by 35 points,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We played good defense, but if we had made the stop we would have played great defense.”

In the preseason we kept hearing those comparisons of this defense with the Ravens’ 2000 unit and those were premature. Ray Lewis and Co. would have come up big Sunday.

Instead, the present-day Ravens allowed the Titans to convert on two third-down situations. The Titans also completed a 25-yard pass over the middle to tight end Delanie Walker and a 17-yard swing pass to running back DeMarco Murray.

“I know exactly what it was, three mental errors,” Mosley said of the drive. “They hit the tight end down the seam and I looked the wrong way. They just made the right play at the right time. Then they throw that pass and we were supposed to peel off with him [the running back] and we didn’t. Those things just can’t happen.”

How our reporters and editors saw the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday.

“It’s a three-point game with seven minutes to go, we didn’t step up to the plate and get a stop,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “As much as we battled and gave ourselves a chance when the game was on the line we didn’t get a stop.”

Unfortunately, there is no room for much defensive error. The Ravens offense is pathetic. They don’t make explosive plays in the passing game and their top plays seem to be 2- to 5-yard crossing routes.

Their top draft pick from three years ago, receiver Breshad Perriman, can’t catch and the offensive line has been depleted because of injuries, even though the group was struggling when everyone was healthy.

The Ravens continue to commit stupid penalties. They got called for an illegal formation penalty during a punt and received an unnecessary roughness penalty on the opposing quarterback when he was already out of bounds.

How can these things happen? Do the Ravens’ practice? Where is the discipline?

That’s why this defense has to play near perfection. Right now, the Ravens have nothing else going for them. The optimism about the defense had started to decline without nose guard Brandon Williams in the starting lineup, but his return has bolstered the run defense.


Because the Ravens now have cornerbacks who can play they have a shot at winning and possibly being great if they keep improving and can close out games.

With the loss Sunday, the Ravens have to win six of their seven remaining games to get to the magic number of 10 and serious playoff consideration. It’s not impossible, but improbable with Detroit, Green Bay and Pittsburgh left on the schedule.

But at least the Ravens don’t have to compete against the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Texans’ Deshaun Watson. Both are out for the season with injuries.

That’s another reason for disappointment after Sunday’s loss. The victory was there for the Ravens to grab and they couldn’t seize it. It’s the same scenario that has been repeated the last two or three years.

Great teams dominate and close out games. The Ravens aren’t there yet, but they have to get there if they want to reach the playoffs.

“It’s disappointing,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You want to try and get your offense a chance to win the game or tie the game. We did the one thing you can’t do, give up points. It’s like we played pretty solid up until that drive. I don’t know what happened. It’s just very unfortunate, man. It’s disappointing. I don’t know what else to say to you.”

“We can’t let that happen,” nose tackle Brandon Williams said. “We need to focus better at the time we’re needed the most to change the outcome of these games.”

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