Advertisement

Ravens get back to basics defensively after breaking down in every facet in loss to Steelers

Angry and tired Ravens defensive players reported back to the team facility Tuesday to review film from Sunday night’s 39-38 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they hardly recognized what they saw.

There were players not setting the edge on running plays, linebackers not taking deep enough drops, pass rushers dropping back when the play called for them to get after the quarterback, and defensive backs getting beaten at the line of scrimmage.

Advertisement

“We all had our issues. I don’t think anyone can stand up and say it was someone else’s issue. I think we all did,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday. “It was a little bit of everybody. We just didn’t play well. We didn’t play fundamentally well all the way across the board, and that goes on all of us. We have to do a better job of coaching them and things like that. It was a combination of all. We just did not play our best game. We gave up too many big plays, and we just didn’t do a good job all around — coaching or playing.”

Against the Steelers, the Ravens allowed 19 fourth-quarter points and 506 passing yards, and blew final-quarter leads of 11 and nine points. The collapse conjured up painful memories of last season, when the Ravens defense, without top cornerback Jimmy Smith on the field, faltered badly late in the year with a playoff berth on the line.

When the Ravens (7-6) face the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, they’ll try to prove that the performance against the Steelers, along with the second half of their previous game against the Detroit Lions, was an aberration rather than a significant reason for concern going forward. In six quarters since Smith went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, the Ravens have given up 59 points and 717 passing yards.

“Obviously, Jimmy’s a really good player for us, but he’s not walking through that door anytime soon,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Some things that happened in that [Pittsburgh] game were just uncharacteristic … It’s not on just one guy. It was all 11, coaches included. We’re in this together. I think every man can say that we could’ve played better and a lot of times we weren’t playing the defense correctly. We looked at the film and it showed it even more, that if we just do our job … ”

Weddle was among several Ravens defensive players to say that the unit just needs to get back to the basics and not overreact to a subpar performance against perhaps the most talented offense in the NFL. He also suggested that some of the struggles Sunday were simply a result of players being overanxious and amped up to make an impression in a prime-time game.

“Hopefully, the team can learn from it on defense. We have a lot of new guys playing in that type of game,” Weddle said. “You just have to control your emotions and settle yourself down, and just worry about your job. We’ll get back to playing Ravens football. I’m not really too worried about what happened in that game.”

There has been no shortage of Ravens defensive players to take blame for the loss. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who struggled all night to keep up with Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown, said immediately after the game that he needed to bounce back. Safety Tony Jefferson, who gave up two touchdown passes, was as distraught as any Raven and apologized to several of his teammates for his performance.

“Personally, there were a couple of plays I wish I had back. But all in all, at the end, you just want to play better. You want to win those games, especially when you feel like you had the game,” Jefferson said Wednesday. “There’s some adjustments we’ve got to make underneath and stuff like that. We just have to play our defense and play the fundamentals of it. I think we were just kind of out there playing football, but we have to stay within the confines of the defense.”

While pleased with the defense’s continued improvement against the run, defensive lineman Michael Pierce said the pass rush didn’t make life hard enough on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and hung the defensive backs out to dry.

And then there was Pees, who acknowledged Thursday that he probably should have had rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey shadow Brown, who made 11 catches for 213 yards.

“In hindsight, maybe what we should have done is try to do that. Yes, that is true,” Pees said. “We talked about it actually on the sideline and what happened is kind of in that game, I played less man coverage than I have played the entire year. After the first couple of passes that were thrown, we were in man, and we just kind of went away from it and we went to a lot of zone. I pressured 40 percent of the time and out of those 40 percent, only one of them was a man [coverage] pressure. Everything else was a zone pressure, just trying to keep the ball inside and in front of us. In retrospect, maybe that is probably what we should have done, try to match that up a little better. I’ll be honest, we probably should have.”

Pees also explained why the Ravens did not double-team Brown when he made the 34-yard catch down the sideline on third-and-4 with just over a minute remaining to put Chris Boswell into position to kick the game-winning field goal. On a third-and-4 earlier in the game, the Ravens played zone and doubled Brown and Roethlisberger threw underneath to wideout Eli Rogers for the first down. That went along with the Steelers’ tendencies during the year.

Wanting to be aggressive and not to let the Steelers dink and dunk down the field, Pees had the Ravens play man-to-man and Brown beat Carr on his release at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens’ problems on the play were compounded by the fact that defensive tackle Willie Henry took a different pass-rush route than what the play called for, giving Roethlisberger time to make the deep throw.

Advertisement

“I don’t care whether you are playing Pittsburgh, whether you are playing the Cleveland Browns — whoever you are playing — you can’t do those things. Just do your assignment and good things will usually happen,” Pees said. “To me, the bottom line of that game is we just did not execute on defense across the board. It is not just secondary, it is not linebackers, it is not front … coaches. It is all of us. We just did not execute.”

Several defensive players have spoken this week about how they wish they didn’t have to wait until Sunday to get back onto the field.

“We’re anxious, man,” Pierce said. “We have to redeem ourselves and show the world that we want to be a playoff team. We know what we have to do.”

Advertisement
Advertisement