The Ravens will take a hard look at their tackling and overall defense during the bye week.
During Sunday's 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore surrendered a season-high 520 yards of total offense. It was particularly disappointing because it was the second time in three weeks that an opponent topped 500 yards against Baltimore. The Indianapolis Colts amassed 513 yards of total offense against the Ravens in Week 5, although Baltimore escaped with a 31-25 overtime victory.
Cincinnati had big plays galore against the Ravens, including an 82-yard catch-and-run by Ja'Marr Chase, a 55-yard touchdown reception by C.J. Uzomah and a 46-yard run by Sammy Perine – backbreaking plays that were too much for Baltimore to overcome. Head Coach John Harbaugh says the Ravens (5-2) must return from their bye less vulnerable to giving up big plays.
"The biggest problem we have on defense right now in terms of big plays is not getting guys on the ground," Harbaugh said. "Whether it's been underneath slant routes or screen routes…most of them have been catch-and-run plays. Go back to the Kansas City game, that's been on-and-off a problem all year. Until we get that fixed, we'll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking. Our guys understand that.
"When we play really good defense, we're tackling. That's got to get done. There's a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes you're not pushing to the right zones, there's more space in there than they should be. Other times we take a bad angle. Sometimes the guy's not covered. There's different reasons for it but the results are uniformly not good. When we start doing all of the little things well, then we're going to be a better defense."
Through Sunday's games, the Ravens were ranked 24th overall defensively in the NFL — 28th against the pass and fourth against the run. However, Baltimore's No. 4 ranking in run defense (86.1 yards per game) was somewhat misleading because the results have varied dramatically from week to week.
In Week 6, Baltimore's run defense was outstanding, limiting the Los Angeles Chargers to 26 yards as inside linebacker Josh Bynes made his first start and helped the front seven settle down. However, the Bengals had their way running the football during a key stretch of the fourth quarter Sunday when Baltimore needed the football back. The Ravens knew Cincinnati wanted to run, yet they couldn't stop it from happening. Joe Mixon ran for a 21-yard touchdown, then Perine's run sealed Baltimore's fate.
The Ravens pride themselves on stopping the run, and regardless of where they rank statistically, Harbaugh said the run defense needs to improve.
"Inconsistent," Harbaugh said. "We can sit there and say, 'Well, the average is this, if not for these plays it's this.' We're capable of being a dominant run defense and we are on very many plays. On very many plays there's nowhere to run. I think a couple of teams gave up on running the ball when we got the lead.
"But we've given up too many big runs. We cracked a couple of times on zero blitzes, a couple times at the end of games we've given up big runs. Those aren't what we're looking for. It's just not as consistent as I want to see it. I believe the players feel the exact same way."
Report: Patrick Mekari Has High Ankle Sprain
Harbaugh did not give an update Monday on Patrick Mekari's status, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the starting right tackle suffered a high ankle sprain during Sunday's loss.
Mekari limped off the field under his own power with 9:20 left in the second quarter, but went directly to the medical tent and then to the locker room. He had been playing extremely well since Week 2, taking over at right tackle for Alejandro Villanueva, who is now the starting left tackle in place All-Pro Ronnie Stanley, who is out for the season.
The bye gives Mekari extra time to recover, but it remains to be seen if he can play Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings. Tyre Phillips replaced Mekari at right tackle Sunday after he was injured.
Derek Wolfe Moving Closer to Action
Veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe (back/hip) has not played all season but is moving closer to a return from the injured list. Wolfe's presence would be a boost to the run defense. He was an anchor on the defensive line last season, especially during periods when Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams were out of the lineup.
Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike said last week that Wolfe had returned to meetings, and Harbaugh indicated it might not be long until Wolfe is cleared to practice.
"Very close. We'll see," Harbaugh said. "This week, next week hopefully."
Harbaugh Said Crosswinds Factored Into Justin Tucker Not Attempting Long Field Goals Sunday
During Sunday's game, the Ravens elected not to let Justin Tucker attempt long field goals from 57 and 58 yards, respectively. Normally, those kicks are well within Tucker's range, as he proved this season when he kicked an unforgettable NFL-record 66-yard game-winner to beat the Detroit Lions.
The Ravens believe Tucker is the G.O.A.T, but Harbaugh said crosswinds at M&T Bank Stadium would have made those long kicks difficult Sunday even for Tucker.
"That was past our line at that point," Harbaugh said. "There was a crosswind coming pretty hard from their bench, their sideline to our sideline. Could 'Tuck' make it? Yes, in a situation where you had to make it, but it was a pretty low-percentage kick at that point, so we said no."