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Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Here's why the Ravens run defense stinks

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Numbers usually don't lie.

The tape never does.

Both say the Baltimore Ravens are struggling on defense in a lot of areas, but surprisingly one of them is against the run. The Ravens are 20th in rushing yards per game, which is so not like them.

So what's wrong?

It's really simple. They aren't getting off blocks and they aren't tackling.

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Inside linebacker Ray Lewis is a big part of the problem, but he's not the only part. The down linemen are getting blocked. The linebackers are getting mauled at times, including Lewis. And the safeties aren't tackling like they should on some long runs.

The end result is games like we saw last week from the Chiefs, who ran for 214 yards with Jamaal Charles getting 140 of those on 30 carries. That's 4.7 yards per rush.

Who are those guys in the purple uniforms?

The Ravens are also 24th in total defense, tied for 28th in first downs per game and they're 24th in sacks per pass play. The latter we might have expected with star pass rusher Terrell Suggs out with an Achilles tendon injury, but it's the other numbers, especially the run problems, which have to be most concerning.

They were helped last week by some bad quarterback play by Matt Cassel, a fortunate bounce off Dwayne Bowe's hands for a pick and a called-back touchdown on a questionable pick-play call, or else this might be even more alarming.

One play from that game best illustrates the problems for the Ravens. It was a 25-yard run by Charles that came in the first quarter. The pictures below will tell the problematic story for the Ravens.

The Chiefs had a first-and-10 at their own 27. The Ravens had three down linemen, four linebackers, one -- Paul Kruger (yellow circle) -- who was split wide on the left side of the defense on a slot receiver. Safety Bernard Pollard (red circle) was also over there about five yards behind Kruger, who would eventually come on a blitz with Ed Reed (blue circle) as a single safety. With nine guys near the line of scrimmage, it looked to be a good run-stopping defense.

  
 

As you can see from the end-zone view below, the Chiefs blocked this play well. Center Ryan Lilja got a good reach block on nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Left tackle Brandon Albert got a good kick-out block on Haloti Ngata, and that left a lane for left guard Jeff Allen to get out on Lewis, which you can see in the second shot he did do, creating a huge lane for Charles.

  
 

  
 

Charles blasted through the hole, ran past Lewis, and tight end Steve Maneri also got a block on corner Cary Williams that helped Charles fly through a hole we all could run through. As Charles ran through it, Reed raced over from deep centerfield to tackle him. As you can see, he missed badly, which allowed Charles to gain an additional 10 yards before backside linebacker Jameel McClain could pull him down from behind.

  
 

  
 

It's just one play in a game of many, but that 25-yard run shows why the Ravens are struggling on defense, even when they give up just six points. There were several more runs that certainly had to stir the coaches during film work this week in Baltimore.

Film Study

1. One of the things you notice sometimes with young quarterbacks who have star receivers is that they sometimes focus on them too much -- rather than scanning the field all the time. That was the case with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton some last week against the Dolphins. He has A.J. Green, one of the game's best receivers, but at times he seemed to lock on him rather than find the open receiver. Here are two examples below of Dalton missing what should have been easy completions trying to get to the ball to Green.

On the first play of the game, you could see Dalton looking for Green deep. But he and receiver Andrew Hawkins (yellow circles) were in the middle of five Dolphins defenders. Down in the bottom of the picture, in the red circle, was tight end Jermaine Gresham. He was wide open for an easy throw. But Dalton looked deep too long and the pocket collapsed and he was sacked.

  
 

Later in the game, Dalton missed Gresham for what should have been a big play as he tried to force the ball to Green. You can see by the picture below that Green (yellow circle) was well covered by Sean Smith of the Dolphins. But Dalton forced the ball there anyway. You can also see that Gresham (red circle) was wide open in the middle of the field. That should have been an easy throw for a big play. As it turned out, it was an incomplete pass.

  
 

Dalton is too good and too smart for this pattern to continue, but I saw it a couple more times against Miami. He has to be patient and come off Green to other receivers when Green is covered.

2. Why do the Jacksonville Jaguars have the worst offense in the league? There are a lot of reasons, but how about playing too scared in terms of scheme? There has been a lot of blame placed on second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but take a look at the formations for the first two plays of last week's blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.

In the first one -- a run by Maurice Jones-Drew -- the Jaguars had nine guys in the box area, including an extra tackle in Guy Whimper. The run went for no gain. In the second picture, it's even worse. The Jaguars had 11 players in the box area. That means the entire offensive unit is in the picture. That's horrible. They ran it to Jones-Drew, who gained three yards. On third down, the Jaguars asked Gabbert to go make a play into a six-man rush, and he had to throw hot to Mike Thomas for a 3-yard gain. That meant time to punt. That's how offenses get put in bad situations. Why not dictate to the defense? If the Jaguars don't open things up, they have no chance to win and they just might be killing any chance Gabbert has to show he can succeed.

  
 

  
 

3. Watching the San Francisco offensive line last week against the Bills was a real treat. They were special. Aside from one or two breakdowns, the line dominated all day. It is a line that has improved over last year. The right side is really upgraded. Adam Snyder, who started at right guard last year, is now with the Cardinals. Alex Boone, a converted tackle, plays right guard now and he is much more physical than Snyder. Center Jonathan Goodwin is playing really well, and right tackle Anthony Davis might be the most improved lineman in the league. He is dominant now. The only real negative at times is the pass protection of right guard Mike Iupati, who tends to get too aggressive. But he is a mauler in the run game. Right tackle Joe Staley is a good player as well. This is a unit that will be tested against the Giants this week. But it is a unit that is improving by the week. 4. With Jon Beason out with an injury, the Panthers moved Luke Kuechly into the middle last week against the Seahawks. While he was far from flawless, he did some nice things and looked much more comfortable in the middle than he did on the weakside. On a third-quarter run by Marshawn Lynch, Kuechly showed off his speed and instincts when he knifed through to drop Lynch for a 2-yard gain. Kuechly was still sometimes too aggressive and over-pursued plays, but I think his future is in the middle.

5. There are some who think Matt Slausen's block on Brian Cushing, which led to a torn ACL for the Houston linebacker, was cheap. After watching the play, I don't think it was cheap. But I also don’t think it was necessary. There was no way Cushing was going to be a part of the tackle on the run to the right from his right linebacker spot. But Slausen chopped him down from the side anyway, which led to Cushing immediately grabbing his knee. It is big loss for the Texans. Tim Dobbins came in against the Jets and did a nice job in the run game, but he lacks the ability to play the pass as well as Cushing. That will show up down the road.

6. Sometimes we are just wrong about a player. That player for me is Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. When he came out of Arizona State last spring, a lot of people dropped him on draft boards because of his off-the-field issues and propensity for getting personal fouls. As a graduate of ASU, I watched him his entire career. The thing that turned me off was that he lacked suddenness. He played slow. But so far as a surprise starter for the Bengals, he has displayed much more athletic ability than he did at ASU. He had a solid game last week against Miami. And he has a knack for finding the football. In fact, he is playing better than the more-heralded Rey Maualuga. On one play against the Dolphins, Burfict shed a block and as he did he was able to slide down and trip Daniel Thomas as he was ready to make a big play. The other thing you notice on tape about Burfict: He runs to the football, which is something he didn't always do at ASU. I was wrong about this kid.

7. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez had 13 catches last week for the Falcons. He might want to send Roddy White and Julio Jones thank-you cards. Because those two receivers are so good outside, they see a lot of doubles. That means Gonzalez is singled, sometimes with a linebacker. Even with Gonzalez at 36, that's a tough matchup for any linebacker. Gonzalez doesn't run like he once did, but he knows the tricks, such as using his body to box out defenders. Look for him to continue to put up big numbers, at least as long as teams double both outside receivers.

8. When 49ers tight end Vernon Davis told me this summer he couldn't beg for the ball, I could tell he wanted to be more involved in the down-the-field passing game. This is the era of the tight end after all. Davis is getting his chances now, and he's responding. He had a 53-yard catch on a wheel route against the Bills last week that put his athletic ability on display. Matched up with Bills safety George Wilson, he whipped him with a quick move off the line, then faked an out and ran the wheel up the sideline. He was wide open, and Alex Smith dropped the ball easily into his hands for a big play. Davis has tons of athletic ability and the 49ers are finally starting to use it more and more.

9. Why are the Bills so bad on defense? How can they give up more than 550 yards in consecutive games? After watching both the Patriots and 49ers tapes the past couple of weeks, there are a lot of reasons. It starts with the down four getting blocked, including Mario Williams, the $100-million man, and Marcell Dareus, the team's 2011 first-round pick. The linebackers are really bad. They don't fill holes. They miss tackles. And they look slow. The corners have really struggled, in part because there is no pass rush. And the safeties, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, both bright spots last season, aren't playing nearly as well. Add it all up, and now you know why the Bills are horrible on defense right now.

10. This might sound crazy to Packers fans, but they will be a better offense with Alex Green than they would have been with Cedric Benson. The reason: He has quickness and speed. Benson is a plodder. On a second-quarter inside draw to Green against the Colts, he showed off his inside quickness with a nice 10-yard run. Later, he came back with a big 41-yard run in the fourth quarter. On that play, Green was lined up deep behind Rodgers between two lead blockers. He made a quick cut in the hole to the left side, made the safety miss with a nice shake move, cut back to the right and made Antoine Bethea, the other safety, miss and then ran down the right side for a 41-yard gain. It's the type of run the Packers wouldn't get from Benson. So put me on record as saying Green will help the Green Bay offense with Benson out, not hurt it.

Hot Tub

1. Broncos OLB Von Miller: He was all over the field against the Patriots, getting two sacks.

2. Saints WR Marques Colston: He had three touchdown catches and put the Saints offense on his back against San Diego.

3. Texans DE J.J. Watt: Can we just keep him here? The guy is playing some amazing football. Is he the next Merlin Olsen?

4. Jaguars LT Eugene Monroe: He did a really nice job on Julius Peppers last week when matched with him.

5. Redskins DT Barry Cofield: Some of his coaches said he was the best nose guard in the league before the season. He just might be.

Cold Tub

1. Eagles QB Michael Vick: He fumbled three times against the Steelers, losing two, to give him 11 turnovers on the season. He has to take care of the football.

2. Packers receivers: They didn't win enough against man coverage last week against the Colts.

3. Cardinals tackles D'Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie: If they don't pick it up, Kevin Kolb won't make it.

4. Titans S Michael Griffin: Titans fans have to wonder why they paid this guy.

5. Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert: He just isn't taking shots down the field and two pick-sixes will kill you.

Three and outs

Three assistants who won't sleep this week

1. Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn: Normally he's the guy sleeping well, but he's preparing his guys to face one of the better lines from early in this season against the 49ers.

2. Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley: Yes, he has a damn good defense. But he has to get ready to face a New England offense that is tops in the NFL and getting better.

3. Oakland secondary coach Johnny Lynn: His group faces a tough test against that Atlanta passing game.

Three underrated rookies

1. Browns T Mitchell Schwartz: He has proved to be a nice complement to Joe Thomas on the other side.

2. Panthers DE Frank Alexander: This fourth-round pick has flashed some pass-rush ability.

3. Bucs LB Lavonte David: He was one of my favorites heading into the draft and he's done nothing to dispute that he's going to be a quality starter for a long time.

Three things I am tired of already

1. Mike Pereira sticking it to the replacement refs. They're gone, Mike. Your buddies are back. Move on.

2. Bounty-gate. Who cares? The Saints season is all but over.

3. The pro-Tim Tebow media. When will it end? He's found his niche -- as a punt-protector. That doesn't change who he is, right? And isn't that why most love him anyway? He's bigger than football, after all.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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