The Ravens’ biggest problem on defense this season hasn’t changed. If they can’t tackle, they can’t succeed.
Tackling woes again plagued the Ravens in their 41-17 loss Sunday to the Bengals, with Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow amassing nearly half of his career-high 416 passing yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine also ripped off fourth-quarter touchdowns against a defense that couldn’t bring them down.
As the Ravens enter their bye week on a low note, their defensive fundamentals are under the microscope. That has been the case seemingly all season, even after spirited wins.
“The biggest problem we have on defense right now, in terms of big plays, is not getting guys on the ground, whether it’s been underneath slant routes or screen routes or, in one case, we got the screen-and-go,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday, referring to Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah’s 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter Sunday when he slipped past safety DeShon Elliott in the open field.
When the Ravens return in Week 9 for their home game against the Minnesota Vikings, there will be little letup for the defense. Running back Dalvin Cook averaged a broken tackle every 9.5 carries last season, according to Pro Football Reference, though his elusiveness has slipped this season. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who starred alongside Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase at LSU, is ninth in the NFL with 542 receiving yards.
“Until we get [tackling] fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys understand that. … When we play really good defense, we’re tackling. And that’s got to get done. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes they’re not pushing to the right zone, so there’s more space in there than there should be. Other times, we take a bad angle. Sometimes a guy’s not covered.
“There’s different reasons for it, but the results are uniformly not good. And you’re a consistent, good defense when you consistently do all the little things well. And when we start doing all the little things well, then we’re going to be a better defense.”
Harbaugh declined to comment on right tackle Patrick Mekari’s condition, saying only that he has an ankle injury. The NFL Network reported Monday that Mekari, who was hurt in the second quarter, suffered a high-ankle sprain and is “seeking more feedback.” High-ankle sprains generally take at least a month to recover from.
Mekari is the Ravens’ highest-rated tackle, according to PFF, and played every offensive snap from Week 2, when he took over after Alejandro Villanueva moved to left tackle, to Week 6. Harbaugh said last week that he “couldn’t ask for a better player there [at right tackle] right now.”
With Ronnie Stanley (ankle) sidelined for the season, the team will likely turn once more to Tyre Phillips, who started at left guard in Week 1 before suffering a minor knee injury. He replaced Mekari on Sunday and struggled against Cincinnati’s pass rush.
“We’ll just see where it goes,” Harbaugh said of Mekari’s injury.
- Harbaugh called the Ravens’ performance Sunday “our worst game of the season, worst game in a long time.” But he stressed that the team is not even at the midpoint of a long season. “We’ve got 10 games left,” he said. “We need to keep growing as a football team and building on what we’ve done and what we haven’t done and make the strongest run we can for the next 10 weeks, and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
- After Ravens running backs combined for 29 rushing yards on 11 carries Sunday, Harbaugh was asked about the position’s struggles on the ground. “We just have to block better, scheme better, run better,” he said. “There are specifics in there in terms of schemes, and every play stands on its own. But we can’t go through all — how many run plays have we had this year that haven’t been successful? You can go through every one of them and you get the specific answer.”
- Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (hip/back) is “very close” to returning to practice, Harbaugh said. Wolfe has yet to play this season after suffering an injury in training camp. “This week, next week, hopefully, and we’ll see,” he said.