AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels remembers receiving the sheet of paper from the Houston Texans informing him of his release. Recounting the situation Wednesday, Daniels said there was a check mark by "wasn't good enough" on why the Texans were releasing him.

"I have [the sheet] with me in the house," Daniels said. "I don't have it up in my locker. I can see it. I have a decent memory."

Daniels
Daniels acknowledges that it's "going to be weird" when he plays in Houston for the first time since that divorce nine months ago.

The 32-year-old tight end left as the Texans' No. 2 all-time leading receiver with 385 catches and 4,617 yards. Daniels, who still lives in Houston, was one of the most popular players in franchise history as a result of his community work and two Pro Bowl seasons.

Leaving no doubt that his ties to the Texans still tug at his emotions, he didn't downplay the motivation of stepping on the same field where he starred for eight years.

"Obviously, when you work somewhere for so long and they say you're not good enough to play there anymore and you get a chance to play them that following season, you definitely want to prove to them that they made a mistake," Daniels said. "But I've been trying to do that all season with my play, and not just in this one game."

Daniels has exceeded expectations with the Ravens, filling the void left when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 3. He is the Ravens' second-leading receiver with 45 catches and has scored four touchdowns. In last Sunday's 20-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Daniels delivered the two clutch catches -- a 29-yard reception followed by a 3-yard touchdown catch -- that helped the Ravens avoid the upset.

"I want to get him more involved because he is a good player," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think he makes us go when we get him involved."

The biggest concern about Daniels throughout his career has been durability. Last season, he missed the final 11 games because of a broken leg. This year, Daniels has only missed one game, and the Ravens have been keeping him fresh by giving him one day off from practice each week.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said you can see the difference in Daniels when you compare the tape of the tight end from last year to this year.

"I'm just amazed at how well he's done as far as getting himself ready to play coming off the injury last year -- how fresh and young and how well he's running," Harbaugh said.

It's not lost on Daniels that he could possibly clinch a playoff berth against his former team. "A 'W.' That's the best thing that can happen," he said. But he made it clear that he still respects his original team.

"That organization gave me a chance to play in the NFL for the first time," Daniels said. "I can't be more thankful for Mr. [Bob] McNair and that organization for giving me that opportunity. They did what they had to do business-wise last year. I'm trying to be the best player I can be here. I have no ill will toward them at all."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The biggest news about the Baltimore Ravens' injury report was who's missing from it. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has been dealing with a right knee injury, was not listed on the team's injury report Wednesday.

Smith played 51 snaps last Sunday after being listed as probable and missing two practices last week. It's a good sign for the Ravens that he has been removed from the injury report.

The Ravens had two players who didn't participate in Wednesday's practice: defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (illness). Canty has stepped up his play over the past two weeks in the absence of suspended defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Running back Bernard Pierce (back) and cornerback Anthony Levine (ankle) were both limited. Pierce is the team's No. 2 back after rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on injured reserve.
The Baltimore Ravens have a 73.44 percent chance of reaching the playoffs this season, according to the sports analytics site numberfire.com.

Their best shot at making the postseason is as a wild card, which isn't surprising. The Ravens (9-5), who currently hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC, have a 52.94 percent chance of earning a wild-card berth.

The Ravens can clinch at least a wild-card berth if they win their final two games. They're a 4.5-point favorite for Sunday's game in Houston, and they should be favored at home against Cleveland in the regular-season finale.

Even though the Ravens are a half game back of first place in the AFC North, their chances of winning the division is only 20.5 percent, according to numberfire.com. This makes sense because the Ravens need help to capture the AFC North. Either the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) or Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) will win the division if they win out (they face each other in the regular-season finale).

The Ravens are a half game back of the Bengals, and they lose the tiebreaker to the Steelers based on division record. That means they can be eliminated from the AFC North race if Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both win this week.

Here are numberfire's percentages to win the AFC North and earn a wild-card spot:

AFC NORTH
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: 45.72 percent
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 33.78 percent
  • Baltimore Ravens: 20.50 percent
  • Cleveland Browns: 0 percent
WILD CARD

The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth Sunday if they win in Houston and Kansas City and San Diego both lose.

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BALTIMORE -- Nobody talked about the last time the Baltimore Ravens played at M&T Bank Stadium. Even when the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars were one touchdown drive away from a stunning upset Sunday, the Ravens refused to bring up on the sideline about how the defense lost the San Diego game in the final minutes two weeks ago.

"It's kind of like Voldemort, the name we do not mention," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, alluding to the "Harry Potter" villain. "It's kind of like an unspoken understanding. We're going to put it away, and we did it. Good teams don't make the same mistake twice."

What everyone will be talking about from this ugly and sloppy 20-12 win over the Jaguars is how invaluable their pass rush has become. They improved to 9-5 and moved into the No. 6 seed in the AFC because they sacked rookie quarterback Blake Bortles eight times, one shy of the franchise record. And they remain a half game behind of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals because they nearly recorded as many sacks (four) as completions allowed (five) in the fourth quarter.

The difference between the Ravens collapsing to the Chargers and putting away the Jaguars was the pressure put on the quarterback. The Ravens couldn't get to Philip Rivers late, which allowed their beaten-up secondary to get exposed. When they took turns in throwing Bortles to the ground Sunday, the Jaguars never got within 35 yards of the end zone in the final quarter.

Some will say the Ravens aren't a playoff team after their mistake-filled performance against the two-win Jaguars. The real statement made was how their pass rush can carry the team.

The Ravens' consistent running game faltered. Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed twice. Another cornerback, Asa Jackson, could be lost for the season.

Still, the Ravens took another step toward earning a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven seasons. Five players recorded at least one sack for the Ravens: Suggs (2.5 sacks), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (2), linebacker Pernell McPhee (1.5), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (1) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (1).

The Jaguars did everything they could to steal this win, from an onside kick to a fake punt. The Ravens defense just never allowed Jacksonville to capitalize, holding an opponent out of the end zone for the second time this season on the strength of the relentless pressure. The Ravens delivered 15 hits on Bortles, an average of one every three dropbacks.

The challenge of trying to slow down the Ravens' rush is where to begin. Suggs and Dumervil are charging off the edge. Jernigan, who is filling in for suspended defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and McPhee are collapsing the middle. You can't chip a running back and double-team everyone.

"A scheme can only take you so far," Suggs said. "At the end of the day, the players got to execute it and it comes down to you've got to beat a guy. And we've got guys that [are] beating a guy."

It's not just competing against the offensive linemen. The secret to the Ravens' pass-rush success is the competition among teammates.

"I think guys are competing more for who has the sack than how many sacks we get," Mosley said.

This starts at the top. Dumervil extended his franchise single-season sacks record to 17, and Suggs trails him by six. This has become a source of motivation for Suggs.

"I'm going to line up every day and try to catch [Dumervil], as you can clearly see," Suggs said. "We've got two left. But if I don't, I'll take two wins. I will gladly do so and finish 11-5. That should be enough to get us in [the playoffs]."

As long as the Ravens' run to the playoffs matches their pursuit of quarterbacks, the Ravens are virtually guaranteed of making the postseason.
BALTIMORE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 20-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars:

Jackson
No update on Jackson's injury: The Ravens aren't sure whether cornerback Asa Jackson is out for the season, which would be another blow to the depleted position. Jackson hurt his right knee midway through the third quarter after great coverage on third down. "I don't have a final word on Asa," coach John Harbaugh said. The Baltimore Sun reports that Jackson suffered damage to his posterior cruciate ligament. Without Jackson, Rashaan Melvin played with the first team in his first NFL game. The Ravens already have four corners on injured reserve. Harbaugh did announce that rookie safety Terrence Brooks (knee) is out for the season.

Ravens upset about sloppy play: The Ravens lost a possession as a result of an onside kick, a fake punt and a fumble by fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "We didn't play smart all the time," coach John Harbaugh said. "We had too many mistakes, too many errors that kept us off the field or put our defense back on the field."

'Smart play' by Flacco: Harbaugh complimented Joe Flacco on his quarterback keeper that converted a third-and-5 in the fourth quarter with three minutes remaining. But Harbaugh did point out that Flacco failed to stay in bounds, which would have run more time off the clock. Flacco, who was standing in the interview room when Harbaugh said that, immediately said, "I was about to get hit." Harbaugh then smiled and quipped, "That was a smart play by Joe."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith wasn't present during the media viewing portion of Wednesday's practice.

Smith
This isn't a surprise, considering Smith was limited to 15 snaps last Sunday after his right knee swelled in pregame warmups. Smith, who injured his knee on Nov. 30, is considered day to day, according to coach John Harbaugh.

Smith hasn't missed a game in his four-year NFL career. His streak of 61 games played is the third-longest active streak on the Ravens.

Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro also didn't practice because of a "foot and ankle injury," according to Harbaugh. Taliaferro had just taken back the No. 2 running back spot Sunday before getting injured.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore was present at practice but wasn't suited up. Gillmore missed Sunday's game with a back injury.
Elvis Dumervil was recognized as the AFC Defensive Player of the Week only days after he set the Baltimore Ravens' single-season sacks record.

Dumervil
Dumervil recorded 3.5 sacks and four quarterback hits Sunday in the Ravens' 28-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins. This increased his sack total for the season to 16, which broke the Ravens' 13-year-old record and ties him with Kansas City's Justin Houston for most in the NFL.

His 3.5 sacks are the most by a Ravens player in a game since 2002. He became the fourth player in Ravens history to have at least 3.5 sacks in a game, joining Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary and Jamie Sharper.

This is just the third time that Dumervil has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week, and surprisingly it's the first time in six seasons.

Other Ravens recognized this season were:
  • K Justin Tucker (Week 3 against Cleveland and special teams player of the month in November)
  • QB Joe Flacco (Week 6 against Tampa Bay)
  • LB C.J. Mosley (NFL defensive rookie of the month in October)
  • RB Justin Forsett (Week 10 against Tennessee and Week 12 against New Orleans)
The Baltimore Ravens wouldn't be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today, but they do control their playoff fate.

How is that possible?

It boils down to the final week of the regular season, when the Cincinnati Bengals play at the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a result, only three of the four AFC teams currently with eight wins (Ravens, Bengals, Steelers and San Diego Chargers) can finish the regular season with 11 wins.

So if the Ravens, Bengals and Chargers win their final three games, the Ravens finish second in the AFC North and earn a wild-card berth. The Steelers would be the odd team out.

If the Ravens, Steelers and Chargers win out, the Ravens finish second in the division and earn a wild-card spot. Under this scenario, the Bengals wouldn't make the playoffs.

Even if the Ravens and Chargers win out and there's a tie between the Bengals and Steelers in Week 17, the Ravens finish second to the Bengals and earn a wild-card spot. The Steelers wouldn't reach the postseason in this situation.

"Our fate is in our hands," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We don't want to have any help going down the stretch. We win and we're in."

Suggs is exactly right. Even though the Ravens are currently No. 7 in the six-team playoff field, they would earn a playoff berth for the sixth time in seven seasons by winning their last three games.

The combined record of their remaining three opponents -- Jacksonville (2-11), Houston (7-6) and Cleveland (7-6) -- is 16-23 (.410). That's the easiest remaining schedule of the four eight-win teams in the AFC.

"It's a playoff game every week from here on out," running back Justin Forsett said.
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- John Harbaugh is at his best as a coach when his team faces adversity because he knows how to get the Baltimore Ravens in the right mindset.

Their 28-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins proved it again.

With last Sunday's fourth-quarter collapse and recent suspension of Haloti Ngata swirling around this team, nothing put the Ravens in a must-win mentality more than Harbaugh going for it on fourth down-and-1 in the third quarter from his own 34-yard line. Joe Flacco converted it with a quarterback sneak, and the Ravens were celebrating the go-ahead touchdown seven plays later.

The Ravens rallied to beat the Dolphins because of the momentum that came from Harbaugh's gamble. They're squarely back in the AFC playoff picture as a result of the confidence that his risky decision inspired.

Has there been a gutsier decision in Harbaugh's seven seasons as Ravens coach? Has there been a gutsier coaching call in Ravens history?

The Ravens were trailing 10-7 at that point. The prevailing thought was that the Ravens' playoff hopes would end if they lost.

As far as turning points go, this fourth down was it. In many ways, it was fourth down and the season.

Some will still say it was the wrong call. Others might call it a crazy one. Harbaugh, though, viewed it as an easy decision. Right after wide receiver Marlon Brown's third-down reception came up a yard short, Harbaugh was told by his assistants in the coaches' box that the metrics -- the statistics that calculate success rate and situations -- said the right call was to go for it.

"Still, in the end, it's about what your gut says," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens (8-5) are a half-game back of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals because they rallied from an early 10-point deficit and put together a 97-yard drive after Flacco threw an interception in the end zone.

The ultimate gut check was still Harbaugh's decision. With 10:48 left in the third quarter, none of the players had to ask Harbaugh what he was going to do on fourth down.

"He kind of has that go-for-it look," wide receiver Steve Smith said.

The Ravens have been the most aggressive team on fourth-and-1 this season, but they haven't been the most successful. Their 62.5-percent success rate (5-of-8) this season ranks 20th in the NFL.

Plus, the Ravens were stuffed by the Dolphins on two third-and-1 attempts in the first half. This was far from a sure bet.

"I didn't second-guess it," Harbaugh said. "I just wanted our guys to make it."

One of Harbaugh's strengths is that he isn't afraid to think outside of the box. His firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron about this time in December two years ago shows that.

How rare is it for a team to go for it on fourth down in their own territory in the third quarter? Tight end Owen Daniels, who is in his ninth season in the NFL, said he could count the number of times his teams have done it on one hand.

"It was there for us to take. That was the message that was sent to us," Daniels said. "They were putting it on [the offense]. Our defense is playing great, but we had to do something offensively to knock the door down."

Harbaugh loves sending messages to his players. He'll give them blue-collared shirts during training camp to promote their workmanlike attitude. He puts up signs throughout the facility like W.I.N. -- what's important now.

On Sunday, his latest message spoke volumes.

"We knew we had to be aggressive to win this football game," Flacco said. "The confidence that he had in us to stay on the field at that point was huge."

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 28-13 victory against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:

What it means: The Ravens (8-5) put themselves back in the playoff race by rallying from an early 10-0 deficit. The Ravens also moved within a half-game of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) and into a second-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5). It required rebounding from a fourth-quarter collapse the week before and the suspension of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The victory improved the Ravens' road record to 4-3, which doubles their win total away from home last season. The Ravens are now 4-0 in Miami under coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Redemption for Steve Smith: Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has been dropping some big passes lately, no more critical than one in the end zone in the second quarter. On the next series, Smith caught a 1-yard touchdown from Flacco on third-and-goal with two seconds remaining in the first half.

Harbaugh rolls dice and wins: In the third quarter, Harbaugh made the overly aggressive decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 34-yard line. Flacco gained 2 yards on the quarterback sneak, and the Ravens were celebrating their first lead of the game, at 14-10, seven plays later on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Kamar Aiken.

Dumervil sets Ravens' sack record: Elvis Dumervil broke the Ravens' single-season sack with 3.5 on Sunday. That gave him 16 on the season, which eclipses Peter Boulware's 13-year-old mark. The Ravens recorded a season-high six sacks, and the defense allowed only a field goal in the final three quarters.

Game ball: Quarterback Joe Flacco. He keyed a 97-yard touchdown drive to end the first half and converted a fourth down with a quarterback sneak on the touchdown drive that put the Ravens ahead for good. His biggest moment came after throwing an interception in the end zone. Flacco began the momentum-changing 97-yard drive with a 15-yard run and was 7-of-9 for 63 yards as the Ravens got to within 10-7 at halftime. He then hit Kamar Aiken for a 13-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens ahead. He finished 25-of-33 (season-high 76 percent) for 269 yards and two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.

What's next: The Ravens return home to play the last-place Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium. The Jaguars are winless (0-6) on the road this season.
Sure, the Baltimore Ravens' front office needs to take some blame for the current state of the secondary. But general manager Ozzie Newome and the other decision-makers should be applauded for how they upgraded other parts of the team this offseason at relatively bargain prices.

In fact, the Ravens made two of the biggest free-agent pickups, according to ESPN Insider Mike Sando Insider. Running back Justin Forsett and wide receiver Steve Smith ranked among the top-10 veteran additions.

Forsett
Forsett was named the fifth-best offseason signing, although you could make the argument he should rank first in terms of value. He is the NFL's fourth-leading rusher after signing a one-year deal for the veteran minimum ($730,000).

It should be noted the Ravens signed Forsett on the recommendation of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Newsome acknowledged he wasn't sold on Forsett at first.

"[Forsett] has represented an upgrade from Ray Rice -- a testament to him and also to the excellent scheme Gary Kubiak has installed," Sando wrote.

Smith
Smith was signed for a modest three-year, $10.5 million deal after he was cut by the Carolina Panthers. His yearly average doesn't rank among the top 25 wide receivers.

Despite his recent slump, Smith remains the Ravens' leader in receptions (54) and receiving yards (819). His numbers represent only a part of his impact.

"When Jon Gruden broke down the Ravens' offense, he singled out plays showing Smith and others delivering effective blocks on the back side of the formation, which is essential for maximizing Kubiak's offense," Sando wrote.
It's really a no-brainer that running back Justin Forsett is going to win the Baltimore Ravens' most valuable player award this season. He is fourth in the NFL in rushing and turned around the Ravens' run game.

But a case can be made for Jimmy Smith being the team's MVP. Yes, the cornerback who suffered a season-ending foot injury in late October.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoCornerback Jimmy Smith was a disruptive force for the Ravens prior to his season-ending injury.
Smith was the Ravens' best defensive player this season, and his absence has only magnified that. The Ravens' defense and secondary haven't been the same since Smith went down on the opening drive in Cincinnati. The loss of Smith could be the reason why the Ravens (7-5) fall short of making the playoffs. And, even if the Ravens reach the postseason, there's not much hope of a Super Bowl run with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck standing in the way.

When it was announced that Smith was done for the season, I wrote he was the player the Ravens could least afford to lose outside of quarterback Joe Flacco. The results since have proven it.

To show how valuable Smith has become, here is what the Ravens have done with and without Smith this season:

With Smith, the Ravens were 5-2 and held quarterbacks to a 86.8 passer rating (No. 11 in the NFL). Without Smith, the Ravens are 2-3 (which includes the game at Cincinnati where Smith was hurt) and quarterbacks have recorded a 113.1 passer rating (31st in the league).

With Smith, the Ravens gave up seven touchdown passes (tied for fewest in the NFL) and limited teams to 40.4 percent on third downs (14th). Without Smith, the Ravens have allowed 13 touchdown passes (tied for fourth-most in the league) and have watched teams convert 46.2 percent of their third downs (27th).

With Smith, the Ravens knew he would shut down his side of the field and they could roll their coverage elsewhere. Without Smith, there are too many holes in the secondary for the Ravens to cover up.

Do the Ravens give up six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger with Smith? Do they fail to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with him?

Asked about the play of the Ravens' cornerbacks, coach John Harbaugh said: "You just have to play better. We have to make some plays back there. We didn't play the routes a couple times right, [which] led to some big plays. That's really what it boils down to. The other balls were contested balls and contested catches, for the most part."

Injuries have hurt the Ravens at cornerback, but the Ravens held their own when Smith was out on the field. Remember the Ravens shuffled through Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb for the first month of the season and they weren't as vulnerable as they are now.

The Ravens are on pace to give up 4,384 yards passing, which would set a franchise record for futility. That would be over 400 yards more than any previous season.

Smith is scheduled to earn $6.8 million next year after the Ravens picked up his option, which is a $5.5 million raise from this year. Based on how the Ravens have fared without him, he is certainly worth it.
The Baltimore Ravens left too many points on the field in Sunday's 34-33 loss when they scored touchdowns on just three of seven possessions inside the 20-yard line against the San Diego Chargers.

Why did the Ravens struggle against the No. 26 red zone defense?

Taliaferro
"We probably would have liked to run the ball a little better than we did in those situations so we could have got some chunks and turned them into touchdowns," quarterback Joe Flacco said.

One option to improve running the ball in the red zone is giving it to your biggest back who can move the pile. That would mean increased carries closer to the goal line for rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, who has scored four touchdowns on 14 red zone carries.

But Taliaferro hasn't been used as much since fumbling in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. From Week 3 to Week 7, he averaged eight carries. Since that turnover, Taliaferro has run the ball a total of three times in the last three games, including no carries the past two weeks.

Bernard Pierce has taken over the role of the No. 2 back, which raises the question of whether Taliaferro will get any carries in the final month of the season.

"You’ll see Lorenzo without question," coach John Harbaugh said. "There's no punishment going on there. I just think it has been Justin [Forsett] has been playing so well. But Lorenzo has to be there for us, especially down the stretch here.”
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has taken heavy criticism after the Baltimore Ravens allowed two touchdowns in the final four minutes of Sunday's 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers. But general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens' front office has to take their share of the blame for handcuffing Pees with an undermanned and overwhelmed secondary.

How bad has it become for the Ravens? The Ravens are ranked second-to-last in pass defense (only the Atlanta Falcons are worse) and they're on pace to shatter the franchise record for most passing yards allowed.

Much of the Ravens' struggles in the secondary can be traced back to the team's decisions over the past two years:
  • The Ravens gambled on two cornerbacks developing (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) and lost. They put too much faith in a couple of inexperienced cornerbacks to become the No. 3 cornerback, especially with the injury history of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown was cut earlier this month after getting repeatedly beat, and Jackson went on short-term injured reserve after struggling as well (99th-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus).
  • The Ravens didn't sign a proven veteran backup this offseason. It's understandable that the Ravens chose not to retain Corey Graham considering the Buffalo Bills signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal. The mistake was failing to add someone the caliber of Brandon Flowers. The Ravens should've made a big push to get Flowers in June before he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chargers. Flowers has three interceptions this season and is currently the fourth-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus. The Ravens have since gone through Dominique Franks, Derek Cox and Aaron Ross (injured) with little success.
  • Their drafting at the safety position has not produced immediate results. The Ravens addressed safety with a first-round pick last year (Matt Elam) and a third-rounder this year (Terrence Brooks). That's a major investment for a position that still remains a liability. Elam lost his starting job this season after being the worst coverage safety in the NFL and missing 12 tackles. Brooks has had an up-and-down rookie season and was benched Sunday after giving up a touchdown in New Orleans the previous week. He is not making the same consistent impact as the Ravens' other selections in the first three rounds (linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and tight end Crockett Gillmore).

The Ravens did make some good moves this offseason, signing wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Will Hill to bargain deals. They also made the right decision to go with inexperienced Rick Wagner at right tackle.

But the Ravens could tell this summer that the secondary was going to be a major weak spot, and Newsome didn't work his usual magic to add talent there. The season-ending foot injury to Jimmy Smith only underscored the problem.

Pees has tried different combinations to improve the pass defense. The Ravens have started six different cornerbacks and used seven players at safety to no avail.

Now, heading into the final four games of the regular season, the Ravens are going with a struggling Webb (ranks No. 203 out of 214 corners by Pro Football Focus) and converted safety Anthony Levine at cornerback, as well as a constant rotation at safety alongside Hill.

It's easy to rip Pees when the defense gives up 965 yards passing and 61 points the past two games. But you also have to point the finger at Newsome and the front office for the makeshift secondary, which looks like it will be the Ravens' undoing.

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