A priority for the Ravens coming into this season was to strengthen the defense up the middle, making them a force against the run.
The Ravens built around All-Pro nose tackle
The results to this point have been mixed. The unit has been up-and-down, and currently ranks 16th in the NFL by allowing 104.3 rushing yards a game.
“We haven’t played good run defense,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We haven’t gotten off blocks like we need to. We haven’t tackled all the time as well as we can.”
As the Ravens examine their performance over the course of the bye week, finding ways to improve the run defense is a priority.
“If we’re going to be a good defense, we can’t let anybody run the ball on us,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said.
The run defense particularly struggled in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, allowing 141 rushing yards on 29 carries. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell carried 19 times for 93 yards.
The Steelers offense came into the game ranked 31st in the NFL at running the ball, averaging 61.0 yards per game, but they ran some unique packages like the wildcat and used extra offensive linemen to help jump start their ground game.
“They did a good job of scheming some things up,” Harbaugh said. “They came out with the wildcat. They had the extra offensive lineman. I thought they did a nice job with that stuff, so give them credit.”
This is the second straight game where the run defense has been gashed for big yardage. In the week 6 loss to the Packers, the Ravens allowed 140 yards on the ground.
Pees explained that the issues in run defense were different in the two games.
Against the Packers, the Ravens allowed running back Eddie Lacy to pick up 47 yards on his first two runs of the game. The Steelers did not hit the big play, but were able to have sustained success by consistently picking up short gains.
“There weren’t similarities; it was totally two different types of things,” Pees said. “The yardage is the same, which is not good, which we’ve got to get corrected.”
The Ravens have gone through a significant defensive transition this season, and one challenge with so many new pieces is the coaches have to be more selective with their in-game adjustments. When the Steelers showed a new look with an extra offensive lineman, the Ravens could not completely adjust their scheme to something they had not practiced all week.
“We had not seen that on film and had not really seen that previously here before this game,” Pees said. “We need to adjust to that, and part of that is maybe a different personnel group. The problem with what you’re saying is I can’t really do that with these guys because they’re really not ready for that. Maybe in years past, I might have just said, ‘OK, let’s put this group in,’ and we could have gone ahead and played a whole package out of it. This last week, we couldn’t do that.”
While the Ravens have struggled at times to stop the run, the unit has also been stout in other games. The defense allowed just 22 rushing yards to the Dolphins, 65 yards to the Browns and 94 to the Texans, all three victories.
The average rushing yards per game is also skewed from the Week 4 loss to Buffalo, where the Bills rushed for 203 yards on 55 carries.
With extra time over the bye to make tweaks to the scheme, the Ravens are focused on tightening up their run defense for the second half of the year.
“This is a week that is kind of nice because you’re not game planning for somebody else, and you can kind of sit back and take it all in and reevaluate where you are,” Pees said. “That’s the advantage of the bye week.”