The Baltimore Ravens get two weeks to correct a variety of flaws that have contributed to a three-game losing streak, most notably their propensity to give up huge chunks of yardage on a single play.
During a 33-31 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Vikings used plays of 26 yards and 21 yards to grab a 14-0 lead. Then, in the second half, Minnesota peeled off gains of 63, 58 and 58 yards to keep the pressure on.
It was the continuation of a disturbing trend by a defense known as one of the fiercest in the NFL.
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Baltimore (3-3) has yielded 12 plays of at least 30 yards and 13 more between 20 and 29 yards. Adrian Peterson had runs of 58 and 26 yards in becoming the second straight player to eclipse 100 yards rushing against the Ravens, who previously had gone 39 games without permitting a runner to break the century mark.
The pass defense is even worse. After Baltimore rallied from a 17-point deficit to take a 31-30 lead, Brett Favre promptly completed a 58-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal.
“We just cannot continue to give up big plays,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “Big plays are the problem. If we continue to give up big plays, we’re going to continue to struggle.”
Harbaugh was so frustrated with his pass defense Sunday that he pulled cornerback Fabian Washington and inserted Frank Walker, who fared no better. Favre finished with a season-high three touchdown passes and threw for 278 yards.
The Ravens have almost two weeks until their next game, on Nov. 1 against Denver. During that time Harbaugh will address the team’s shortcomings, most notably a defense that is allowing an average of 22 points.
If Steve Hauschka was successful on a 44-yard field goal in the final seconds, Baltimore would be 4-2 and tied for first in the AFC North. The kick strayed to the left, but that didn’t change Harbaugh’s perception of his team.
“Whether we make the field goal at the end or don’t make the field goal at the end, we’re still the same team we would have been. The record would be better, and Hauschka would feel a little better about his ability to make that kick in a clutch situation,” Harbaugh said.
“But we’re still the same team. We’ve still got the same issues, and there’s plenty of them,” Harbaugh said. “I’m confident all those things are very solvable.”
Regarding the play of the secondary, Harbaugh said, “Part of it’s playing technique against certain routes a little better, part of it is understanding where your help is going to be. The bottom line is that they’re correctable things, both scheme-wise and technique-wise. We’ve got to fix them.”
Hauschka’s miss caused some Ravens fans to wonder if the team should have kept veteran kicker Matt Stover. Harbaugh has no doubt he made the right decision in not re-signing the 41-year-old Stover and going with the 24-year-old Hauschka.
“We knew from Day 1 that our young kicker was going to miss a kick. And we also were pretty sure it was going to come in a hugely critical moment,” Harbaugh said. “There was no guarantee that any kicker is going to make any kick in any situation. … We believe we’ve got our kicker. We’ve seen enough of him to believe that.”
If there’s cause for optimism, it’s that the Ravens started 2-3 last season and made it all the way to the AFC championship game.
“I don’t know if (the years) compare to each other or not,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We feel like we have a good team; we just have to go out there and play a little bit better on Sunday. Being on this team last year, I think we will do that.”