Over the first three weeks of the season, the Ravens could rely on their run defense no matter who they were facing.
Even against former Browns tailback Trent Richardson in Week 2 and the Texans’ dynamic duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate in Week 3, the ground game was locked down. Baltimore held opponents to just 74.7 rushing yards per game over those first three contests, and then let the Dolphins run for only 22 yards (a Ravens season-best) in Week 5.
Sandwiched around that Miami game, however, things have started to leak a bit.
The Ravens gave up a season-worst 203 rushing yards to C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, E.J. Manuel and the Bills on Sept. 29. Against the Packers, Baltimore surrendered 140 yards on the ground on Oct. 13. Then the Steelers, who entered Sunday’s game averaging 61 rushing yards per contest, ran for a season-high 141.
On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Dean Pees went into detail about why the Ravens are suddenly struggling to stop the run.
He first addressed what happened Sunday against the Steelers, saying it wasn’t that the Ravens weren’t getting off blocks quickly.
“The problem was we got off blocks too fast,” Pees said. “First run of the game, we got guys stuffed in the hole and then we just kind of jump off the block a little too quick. We were a little too impatient, and (Le’Veon) Bell’s a patient runner and he ended up cutting it all the way back and it was right into a blitz. Everything was good until we just jumped off a block and he found a crease.
“That happened to us about three or four times during the course of the game, that we just got off blocks actually too quick, and this guy is a pretty patient runner on their draw plays. The stuff that they’re doing with him, he’s taking his time back there. He’s got good vision, so we’ve got to be a lot more patient than we were in that game.”
Pees explained that he didn’t see any common trends developing as to why the Ravens are having trouble in that area. The fact that Baltimore surrendered virtually the same number of rushing yards each of the last two weeks might indicate that, but Pees said the struggles were for different reasons.
“The week before (against the Packers), it was big plays,” Pees said. “You started the game against Green Bay as I recall with two big plays. They broke out on us. We played the play just terrible and gave him 37 yards, and then they got 10 yards. And really until later on, we ran a blitz and ran the wrong gap. They ran right through the gap we were supposed to be in, they end up getting an 18-yarder. So 60-some yards of that last week was on three big plays.
“This wasn’t as much big plays. They were just kind of bleeding us - six, seven, eight yards. That’s where it always creates a second problem and that’s third down, which we’ve been very good at, but - I’ve said it before - it’s hard to get a (stop on) third down when it’s third-and-1, third-and-2. The playbook’s more open to the offense than it is the defense in those situations. This is kind of the first week where that’s really happened a lot to us - other than I thought Buffalo was a little bit that way. Those two games were probably our worst third down, just not getting into third-and-long.”
Overall this season, the Ravens rank sixth in the NFL in holding opponents to 34.3 percent conversion on third down. However, Pittsburgh went 7-for-12 to illustrate Pees’ point.
Baltimore’s recent run-stuffing issues have sunk the team to 16th in the NFL, allowing 104.3 yards per game.
On one hand, it’s a positive that there aren’t any common issues the team is having difficulty fixing. On the other, new problems cropping up isn’t encouraging.
“So there weren’t similarities. It was totally two different types of things,” Pees said. “The yardage was the same, which is not good, which we’ve got to get corrected. If we’re going to be a good defense, we can’t let anybody run the ball on us, and we will.”