Ravens vs Cowboys Preseason Review – Defense Struggles

The Ravens defeated the Cowboys last night 37-30 in the second preseason game for each team.   This is the first time Tony Romo got on the field and he looked like vintage Romo.  Early in the game Romo spotted the Ravens a 7 point lead by fumbling the hand-off to the RB DeMarco Murray.  After that Tony settled down and started making plays in and out of the pocket and he completed on 4/5 passes for 80 yard and a touchdown.  The Cowboys running and passing game looked solid and it really tested Dean Pees defense.  The Ravens defense has potential to be good and potential to be bad as well.  The Ravens really struggled defending the outside runs just like last week vs. the 49ers. They also showed lack of corner depth.  After Jimmy Smith left the game, the secondary was getting picked on.  Overall the “bend but not break” defense did it’s job by holding the Cowboys to just 10 points in the first half but there is some concern.

Lets start with the linebacking core,  Terrell Suggs seemed to have trouble getting through the O-line on run plays.  He ended up chasing a few of the outside runs to the sidelines.   Suggs pass rush still looked strong he got around Tyron Smith on a couple of plays.  Could Terrell be becoming a pure pass rush specialist? Courtney Upshaw had the big touchdown off of the Romo fumbled but other then that he was just a body on the field.  He finished the night with a solo tackle and a touchdown.  Upshaw looks to be in great shape and this should be his best year yet.  Elvis Dumervil seemed like he was no where to be found besides the one pass defense.  I wonder if bringing in Elvis on passing downs is affecting Upshaw’s overall performance.  If these three players don’t step up on outside runs this could become a huge weakness for the Ravens.  You saw the Cowboys have lots of success running outside and then moderate success when they came back to the inside runs.  Daryl Smith, Arthur Brown and rookie CJ Mosley where all over the field but it seems like they all have similar skill sets.  The Ravens could really use a big body, 250 lbs linebacker playing down hill in the middle.  Mosley seems like he will become a very good linebacker but he needs to add about 10-15 lbs to his frame.  The linebacker core has the most depth on the defense and possibly whole team.  They should be playing at the highest level, recording lots of sacks and tackles. 

The defensive line were part of the reason why the cowboys had such a successful outside run game.  Where was Haloti Ngata?  Before the season started he was quoted saying he wan’t to have a 10 sack season.  Ngata is getting paid a lot of money to make impact plays and he could be the most overpaid player on the team.   I saw him on the field but if you look at the box score he didn’t record a single statistic.  Not good for a man that possesses that much strength (or used too).  Chris Canty is another player shooting for a better year then last but I couldn’t even tell you if he was playing.  The ONLY starter on the defensive line that had a good game is Brandon Williams.  He looks very stout at nose tackle and he has the strength and power to tie up more then one blocker, and looks good against inside runs.  If the Ravens are going to have a good defense this year it all starts here.   Pernell McPhee is putting a good summer together he is listed as a linebacker but he may be a candidate to replace one of the struggling veterans.  McPhee has been delivering punishing legal blows to the quarterback which is something that could help put the fear back into this defense. 

We can’t talk about the secondary without talking about corner depth.  After Jimmy Smith left the field with the chest injury it was painfully obvious that the Ravens lack serious depth.  Smith has been pretty dependable player health wise so I do expect him to play a full season.  Lardarius Webb injury history definitely leaves the Ravens corner situation a huge question.  Asa Jackson is talented but lacks the size to be able to fill in on the outside.  The ideal role for Webb and Jackson is in the slot.  Chykie Brown may have had his best night, but it still was not impressive.  Brown really lacks ball skills and being able to track the ball coming in.  One play stuck out to me, he got beat down the sidelines but recovered to make a nice deflection to break up the play.  In reality he got beat bad and if the ball wasn’t under thrown then it was a touchdown.  During that play Chykie never looked up to see the ball coming he just happened to get lucky when he threw his hands up.  I fear that Chykie may get more playing time then he deserves because of his size and the lack of outside corners on the roster.  Terrence Brooks is trying to find a role on this team and he was playing a lot of corner.  He was right there with most of the receiver but still aloud some catches.  Brooks appears to be a solid tackler, wrapping up on his two solo tackles. He has potential to become a corner this year if he can’t see the field at safety.  The safety group was really average.  Matt Elam has not been making impact plays.  The coaching staff believed that if he changed positions to strong safety it would fit him better.   So far he still is playing the same as last year and hasn’t done anything to impress.  He also has not had many negative plays which makes him an average safety.  This could possible be a downgrade at strong safety because James Ihedigbo was playing at a higher level.  Ihedigbo is now a Detroit Lion after free agency.  The last question mark on the defense is free safety.  Darian Stewart had a good game but wasn’t doing a lot of deep zone coverage.  They had Stewart playing up on the line and even blitzing a few times.  He made some nice tackles and had recorded a hit on the qb.  However he was not making the typical plays you would think a free safety would make like breaking up passes.  It makes me wonder if he could play strong safety at a higher level the Elam.  I wanted to see Will Hill in action tonight because he could be the one player that could change this whole secondary.  Hill is a highly rated free safety and I would be willing to bet he starts day one after his 6 game suspension.  Dean Pees would then have some options like moving Brooks to corner and having Stewart and Elam compete for the strong safety job.  

To sum up the defense, every position group has some positives and negatives.  Right now the defense looks average, but with all the high draft picks on this team they should be better.  They must be better then last year if they want to get back into the playoffs.  It still early in preseason but I do expect the Ravens defense to return to form this year.  Ozzie Newsome will make a move if needed.  He is most likely trying to find another outside corner to help out the secondary.  The Ravens have enough talent at defensive line and linebacker to make it work.  Veterans must show up to play and the young guys must pull their weight.  Playing average defense is not what the Baltimore Raven’s front office and fans are looking for.  Baltimore has a history of playing lights out defense and they are still striving to get back to that level.  Eventually they will get there but when will it happen?  They should get better as the season progresses and will receive an extra boast when Will Hill returns in week 7. 

-Pete Amos



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