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Ravens good enough to overcome shaky D again, but how long can it last?

by | National NFL Insider
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Ray Rice scores twice to help the Ravens win again despite another poor defensive performance. (Getty Images)  
Ray Rice scores twice to help the Ravens win again despite another poor defensive performance. (Getty Images)  

BALTIMORE -- The stories this week were everywhere: The Baltimore Ravens' run defense could be had, and DeMarco Murray, on this particular Sunday, was having his fill. Murray middle, Murray right. Murray space jumps. Ravens splattered about the field like bugs on a windshield.

Murray rushed for 90 yards on 13 carries -- in the first half. On one cutback Murray had so much running room, at the end of the play a brief argument broke out between Ravens defenders Bernard Pollard and Paul Kruger. They seemed to be blaming each other for the blown assignment. Murray's running was causing Ravens sniping.

The Ravens beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 because Baltimore is good. The Ravens are talented. They have a multifaceted team that can win in many different ways, and they also have a hell of a head coach. A win is a win is a win, that's true. The Ravens are 5-1, have won 15 consecutive home games, counting playoffs, and are in command of the division.

"We were in a fistfight from beginning to end," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "Guys stepped up in the end. ... Is it perfect? Is it pretty? No."

The Ravens are good but they are also potentially in deep trouble. They have to find a way to solve a glaring issue or it will blow up in their faces. It's only a matter of time.

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The stories about Baltimore's problems stopping the run can no longer be called a media creation. The problem can no longer be blamed entirely on Ray Lewis, either. He wasn't even in the game late because of what Harbaugh called a triceps injury (news after the game was worse -- Lewis could be out long-term, even the whole season).

This is a full-blown red alert. All hands to battle stations for Baltimore.

The run defense is busted. Something is wrong. The toughness that was once a trademark of that run defense is gone. Look at what the Cowboys, one of the worst run offenses in football, did: They ran Murray, Felix Jones (who is terrible), and two somebody or others named Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar (Dunbar was just called up from the practice squad last week) for 227 yards. That's the most ever given up in a game by the Ravens. Baltimore has also given up 200 yards in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.

The Dallas Fearsome Foursome played tag team on Baltimore. You want a 15-yard run? Sure, here you go, pal. How about you, would you like a 20-yard scamper up the middle? Sure, thank you, may I have another?

This is a remarkable thing to see, actually. As good as the Ravens are, they have been elevating minus what has been traditionally a benchmark -- tough, uber-tackling run defense. The Ravens of the past didn't miss tackles and they certainly didn't let practice-squad players run all over them.

Those Ravens were prideful, relentless and brutal. Spit and blood. Now they're the ones getting a cleat to the neck.

It will only get tougher. Harbaugh said after the game the Ravens fear cornerback Lardarius Webb has a torn ACL in his left knee. Several Ravens players said privately the defense in particular is devastated and the Ravens are already dealing with the loss of pass rusher Terrell Suggs.

What saved Baltimore wasn't just the horrid time management of Dallas coach Jason Garrett (again) and the huge drop on the game-tying two-point conversion by Dez Bryant (who otherwise had a terrific game). It was also the diversity of the Ravens, one of the deepest and most multifaceted teams in football.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (pay the man) had 234 passing yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 106.9 passer rating. Flacco was key after a Dallas field goal cut Baltimore's lead to 24-23 early in the fourth quarter. Flacco ran the no-huddle in a 10-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a Ray Rice touchdown and a 31-23 lead. Despite Dallas scoring late, that touchdown gave Baltimore just enough cushion (though if Bryant makes that two-point conversion catch later this is maybe a different story).

If it isn't Flacco, it's Rice, who again was incredible, with 63 yards on the ground and two scores and 43 yards through the air. It was the 35th time Rice went over 100 total yards, the most in the NFL since the beginning of 2009 season. Jacoby Jones had a 108-yard kickoff return, the longest in Ravens history and tying an NFL record. The receivers were good. And there was the typical horrific Tony Romo interception to help.

Yes, a win is a win, and yes, Baltimore is good. Really good.

The run defense is a different story and right now, it's a horror story, in need of a better ending.

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