Training camp and the preseason haven't been too kind to the Ravens defense.
The unit has lost three players to season-ending injuries and also seen three of their top cornerbacks get nicked up recently. In two preseason games, the first-team unit allowed the 49ers and Cowboys to move the ball and put up some points, but the starting defenders also made some big plays and key stops.
It's been an up-and-down month for the defense, but the group is still confident about what it will be able to do once the regular season begins. When Defensive Coordinator Pees was asked if he still expects his group to be a top-five unit, he quickly responded with confidence.
"I think we can be higher than that," he said. "The sky is the limit."
In the first two games, the Ravens have faced the opponents' starting offenses for a total of three series. Here are the results:
- 49ers first series: seven plays, 66 yards, field goal
- Cowboys first series: five plays, 8 yards, fumble recovered and returned for Ravens TD
- Cowboys second series: nine plays, 83 yards, touchdown pass
The issues on defense varied for the two games.
"What hurt us [against Dallas] is the opposite of the first game," Pees said. "The first game we got off to a slow start and we didn't give up big plays. Last week, we played better, but we gave up big plays.
"Last week, we had 15 plays in the running game that were 2 yards or less, which is a pretty good day on 25 runs. Unfortunately, there's an asterisks to that thought because there were four plays over 10 yards which we can't we have."
An issue that Head Coach John Harbaugh brought up after the win over Dallas was the need to improve tackling. The Ravens' second-team defense missed a handful of tackles in the secondary that allowed for big plays and even a touchdown.
"Our coverage and our tackling was not very good," Harbaugh said in the post-game press conference specifically about the second-half performance where the Ravens allowed 20 points.
Part of the challenge during the preseason in assessing the defense during the preseason is that the coaches aren't drawing up complex schemes like they will use in the regular season. For example, cornerback Dominique Franks gave up a touchdown to wide receiver Dez Bryant in one-on-one coverage, but Harbaugh stressed they wouldn't have used that type of single coverage in an actual game.
"Some of it is that I put the DBs in those positions to see if they can do it," Pees said. "I told you guys last week that I'm going to call stuff – I'm going to do it in that game too – I'm going to call the game to see where we are in certain situations. Then I know."
Rather than game planning for each opponent, the Ravens right now are simply working to master their base defense. Once the team gets through Saturday's matchup against the Redskins, some of the focus will shift to the Week 1 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"That's what this thing is all about. It's not so much to prep for Washington, it's to prep us for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland," Pees said.
"We just have to eliminate [mistakes] and they're easily eliminated. We just have to do it. I really feel like we can be as good as we want to be."