The Ravens defense has yielded often enough in the team's first two preseason games that a checklist of concerns has arisen.
There's the rash of injuries at cornerback, which has raised doubts about who will man the position when the season opens on Sept. 7.
There's the run defense, which has given on the edges a bit too often for anyone's comfort.
It's enough to make the state of the defense a hot topic on talk shows and message boards, for what that's worth. I'm sure Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees raised a few eyebrows this week when he was asked if he still believed the Ravens could field a top-five defense, and replied, "I think we can be higher than that. The sky is the limit."
Personally, I'm not going to eke out onto the ledge yet. It's August. Two months from now, no one will remember what happened in the preseason. Pees admitted this week that he's running vanilla schemes so as not to tip his hand on what he's cooked up for 2014. He also said the secondary has allowed some big plays because he "put some of the DBs in those positions to see if they can do it."
In other words, he's experimenting, seeking to determine what he's got in terms of personnel and the ability to use certain alignments.
For the record, that experimentation will continue Saturday night against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I'm going to call the game to see where we are in certain situations," Pees said. "That's what [preseason] is all about. It's not to prep so much for Washington. It's to prep us for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland [to start the regular season]."
But while it's way too soon to conclude that the sky is falling, those concerns listed above aren't without merit.
At cornerback, I'm taking a wait-and see approach. The situation is going to change. For instance, I'm expecting
It also sounds like
Regardless of how those injuries progress, having quality depth at cornerback is going to be crucial, especially since it's not clear how long
As for the pass rush, there's no doubt the Ravens are going to need to apply steady pressure, and expect Suggs and Dumervil to lead them, but that's really an area that shouldn't even be measured in the preseason. Pees isn't going to show anything on tape for the Bengals and Steelers to study.
Of all the concerns, the run defense tops my list. To be specific, it's the edge of the run defense, not so much the interior. The middle held its ground nicely last weekend in Dallas, as Pees pointed out, volunteering some useful stats.
"Last week, we had 15 plays in the running game that (went for) two yards or less. That's a pretty good day on 25 runs," Pees said. "Unfortunately, there's an asterisk to that, though, because there were four plays for over 10 yards, which you can't have."
Most of those "plus" plays developed because the Ravens' edges didn't hold, which also happened against the 49ers' starting offense the week before. That's obviously a trend that can't linger if the Ravens want to field a top defense. Stopping the run is their first rule on that side of the ball.
"We just have to eliminate that, and they're easily eliminated," Pees said of big plays on the ground.
It's way too soon for judgments, but there are things to monitor.