Defense has been the foundation for the Ravens this season.
The unit ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories, and has kept the Ravens in games where the offense has faltered. But a problem for the defense has been its performance late in games, as the Ravens have allowed too many late scores and struggled to get off the field in critical situations.
"I'm concerned about it," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "Finishing on defense has been our biggest issue. That's something we have to be better at."
Safety James Ihedigbo said that the Ravens are "on the verge of becoming a great defense," but in order to take that next step they have to improve at the end of games.
"We play 55, 58 minutes of dominant, smothering defense. And we have to play 60 minutes, or 75 when it goes into overtime," Ihedigbo said. "We have to finish. That's kind of our focus. It's like anything else: You practice it and you're going to get better at it. It's been our focus to finish ballgames and that's what we're looking to do."
The late-game struggles were evident in Sunday's back-and-forth finish against the Minnesota Vikings, as the Ravens blew two fourth-quarter leads by allowing a pair of touchdowns in the span of 42 seconds.
Baltimore ended up getting the last laugh thanks to a game-winning drive by quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense, but the near* *defeat was not forgotten by defenders after the game.
"They bailed us out in the end," defensive lineman Arthur Jones said. "Thank God for that."
Earlier this season, the Ravens were not able to overcome some late-game defensive troubles.
The defense could not get off the field on the final drive against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6, leading to a 19-17 defeat. Then they allowed a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation to the Steelers in Week 7 and also a late field goal in a Week 9 loss to the Browns.
Even in the Week 10 win over the Bengals, the defense allowed a Hail Mary touchdown in the final seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime.
"In those situations, we haven't been as good as we have the rest of the time," Harbaugh said. "That's something that we've got to clean up. To me, that's not a hard fix, that's just something we have to put our mind to and get it done."
Overall, the Ravens have allowed 20.1 points per game, which ranks as the eighth-best mark in the NFL. But when it comes to the second half, the Ravens rank 21st in points allowed (147). The group also ranks 21st in fourth-quarter points allowed (90).
Defenders have not pointed to a specific difference in their second-half play, and have kept a simple approach when asked about what they need to do to finish games strong.
"I would definitely say just kind of embrace the moment," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "When your number is called, and when it is time for you to make a play, just to make it. I think that is pretty much it.
"You don't want to play phenomenally the whole game, and then it comes down to one or two drives, and the play is not there. I think it's definitely just embracing the moment and sticking together as a unit."
The defense will face arguably its toughest test of the season this week when they go up against an offense featuring playmakers like wide receiver Calvin Johnson, running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions are ranked as the second best overall offense in the NFL, and they can put up points in a hurry.
The Ravens have to worry about keeping them at bay for 60 minutes, and Suggs pointed out that maybe Sunday's thrilling finish could be a sign of some good fortune in their future.
"It also could be a good thing," Suggs said. "It could mean we may have a four-leaf clover stuck somewhere around this team for us to win the way we did and for the events to happen the way they did. Maybe this is the start of something, so we've just got to see."