Eisenberg: Ravens Could Be Tough Team To Handle


The Ravens have experienced some ups and downs in 2014, but if they can tighten up their pass defense, they could be a tough team to handle going forward. Everything else about them is looking pretty solid.

After a stellar effort against the Saints, their offense is ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring and No. 8 in total yards. Their running game is rolling with Justin Forsett leading the way, and their passing game was error-free and productive in New Orleans Monday night.

A year ago, the Ravens couldn't get out of their own way when they had the ball. They were ranked No. 29 in yards gained, No. 25 in scoring, No. 24 in first downs, and dead last, No. 32, in average yards per play. No one in their right mind would think they could win a shootout with Drew Brees and the Saints in the Superdome. But on Monday night, Forsett ran the ball, Joe Flacco passed it and Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith caught it as the Ravens marched up and down the field.

Yes, the Saints defense is falling apart, so the living was relatively easy and that won't always be the case, but still, the Ravens' mix of physicality and playmaking was impressive. In this season of thanks, the hiring of Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator should be one of the things Ravens fans are most thankful for.

On the other side of the ball, their run defense is back to its old, stout self after slipping a year ago. On Monday night, the Saints gained 67 yards on an end-around on the game's second play, but totaled just 59 yards on 20 carries over the rest of the game. The Ravens dominated inside. They're ranked No. 5 against the run.

Their special teams also are contributing every week. Jacoby Jones is near the top of the league in average yards per kickoff returns. Justin Tucker has missed just three of 24 field-goal attempts. Sam Koch is in the hunt for a Pro Bowl invitation. The kick coverage teams have been tight.

Bottom line, there's a lot to like in pretty much everything the Ravens are doing, with one exception. Their pass defense is ranked No. 29 after yielding 420 yards and three touchdowns Monday night.

It's hardly breaking news that the secondary needs to improve. It has been an issue all season. Injuries piled up in training camp. A 77-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes led to a season-opening loss to Cincinnati. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw for six scores in a game.

But enough with why they're here or what has already gone down; the question is whether the Ravens can make a fix in the final weeks of the season. They've already overhauled their personnel. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees can't have many new tricks left in his dog-eared book of schemes.

After a brutal first half Monday night, the scholarly Pees basically threw up his hands at halftime, got in some faces and dared the unit to get better. That seemed to work. Helped by a pass rush applying steady pressure, the secondary made plays and slowed Brees.

It will be interesting to see if that enabled the unit to grab some traction; Sunday's game against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers provides another major test.

If you're a glass-half-full person, you see potential for improvement with the pass rush now officially tough to handle, safety Will Hill making plays and Asa Jackson set to rejoin the cornerback corps next month.

If you see the glass as half-empty, well, you've got plenty of ammo.

The Ravens can tolerate SOME softness in the back of their defense, as they proved by winning Monday night, but they can't let it slip to the point that games are getting away from them as a result. They don't have enough margin of error. Their race for a playoff spot is dicey, both in the division and on the wild-card front. Other teams are winning. The Ravens might need 10 wins, even 11, to make the field.

There's a lot to recommend them as a team that can get that done, provided they find a semblance of steadiness where they need it most.

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