Ravens secondary seems improved, but we'll know more soon

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb celebrates after defeating the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb celebrates after defeating the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has been complimentary of his secondary during the last couple of weeks, but the true tests will come in the final four games of the season.

As hard as the opening part of the season was for the Ravens, their past five games were against teams without winning records, and four of them — the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams — didn't have marquee quarterbacks.


Instead of facing the likes of Josh McCown, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill, the Ravens will be going against the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton.

"We've been more disciplined the last four weeks, especially on the back end where we cut down on the big plays," said Harbaugh.


Harbaugh is correct. Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb have been more aggressive in press coverage and safeties Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis have been better tacklers at the line of scrimmage.

But after the game Sunday, Miami coach Dan Campbell said his team was committed to running the ball against the Ravens because he didn't feel they could protect Tannehill, who completed 9 of 19 passes 86 yards.

Dalton might throw 19 times in one half. Roethlisberger, when healthy, is the hottest quarterback in the NFL and is surrounded by talented receivers. Wilson has transformed the Seahawks from a defensive team to an offensive team.

While the Ravens have made progress, it is unlikely they have improved enough to slow down any of these teams. And if they have, then the Ravens have to answer this question: What took so long?


It's not like these are young players.

"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," Harbaugh said.

We'll soon find out.

Sour on Monroe

The Ravens won't admit it publicly, but the coaching staff seems to have soured on left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has missed two straight games with a shoulder injury.

Dating back to the end of last season, including the playoffs, Monroe has started and finished three of the past 16 games.

Harbaugh isn't sure if Monroe will play Sunday against Seattle, but sent the seventh-year tackle a nice, subtle message.

"It's been a real challenge," Harbaugh said of the changes at tackle this season. "I give James Hurst all the credit in the world, he deserves it. He's gone in there and started a number of games.

"It's just unfortunate for Eugene. He's had the shoulder issues that have been nagging, and I think he's up for another MRI on Wednesday. Between him, his doctor, his agent, they just have to make a decision about whether he wants to play with it for the rest of the year."

Backup for the backup

The Ravens signed quarterback Jimmy Clausen last month as a backup to Matt Schaub, but they need to get a backup ready for Clausen. Schaub took a beating Sunday against the Dolphins. He was sacked three times and hit 10 other times.

Several times Schaub got off the turf slowly and he was checked for a concussion, shoulder and knee injuries during and after the game. With the way the Ravens tackles are struggling, Schaub may might make it through the remainder of the season.

Harbaugh said Schaub is still his starter, but might miss some practice time this week. It was kind of interesting that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome signed Schaub during the offseason. In the past, Newsome has signed athletic, mobile quarterbacks to be the backup.

It made sense because backups don't always get a lot of repetitions in practice so they might as well be able to get outside the pocket and improvise.

Unless the Ravens are developing the heir apparent to Flacco, they should go back to that strategy.

Trestman's offense

If you really wanted to see the true Marc Trestman offense, it has been on display the past two weeks, minus some deep passing attempts. In Chicago, the Bears threw often to running back Matt Forte and now the Ravens are using rookie Buck Allen in the same capacity.

Of the 46 passes attempted by Schaub Sunday, 13 targeted Allen, who had 12 catches for 107 yards.

"I'm very comfortable," Allen said. "Like I said from the beginning, whatever the coaches need me to do, whatever they want me to do, whenever my number is called, I make the best of it and execute the play."

Said Harbaugh of Allen: "He made the plays in space. To make guys miss like that and catch the ball the way he did out of the backfield, he's really coming on and becoming quite a threat, and that's really exciting."

Official criticism warranted

A lot of national writers have taken shots at Harbaugh for complaining about officials, and some of it early in the season was justified.

But the blown calls by officials every week keep increasing and Harbaugh isn't the only one complaining. What coach or player isn't criticizing the officials?

The pass interference call that negated a long touchdown catch by receiver Daniel Brown Sunday was awful, and the officials spotted the ball wrong on two short yardage downs that would have extended a key drive for the Ravens.

It used to be that the worst teams got the worst officiating crews on game day, but they all seem bad now.

On Brown

While on the subject of Brown, I've like the kid since last year.

He isn't overly fast and doesn't run the best routes, but always made plays when given the opportunity.

It's easy to overlook him because he comes from James Madison University, but I am rooting for him.

Osemele makes a difference

I don't know if the Ravens plan to re-sign unrestricted free agent left guard Kelechi Osemele after the season, but he makes a difference on this offense.

Osemele was back in the starting lineup Sunday after missing the past two games with a knee injury and he had more pancakes than the International House of Pancakes.

He has that nasty demeanor about him, something that is desperately lacking on this team.

"I am just happy to be back," said Osemele, smiling about the pancake blocks.