When the Ravens went to the free-agent market to revamp their defensive front seven this offseason, improving against the run was a top priority.
The Ravens brought in proven run stuffers in defensive linemen Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, and veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith. The group came as advertised in the preseason opener last week against Tampa Bay, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and preventing the Buccaneers from moving the ball on the ground.
But it was a different story in the follow-up performance Thursday against Atlanta, as the Falcons found success on the ground.
"We didn't stop the run," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the 27-23 victory. "That's something that has to happen. We have to stop the run."
The Ravens' starters played the first two quarters and gave up 76 rushing yards and a touchdown in the half. Falcons' running back Steven Jackson had room to work, and he averaged 5.3 yards on his eight carries.
"We understand that to be the kind of defense that we want to be, we've got to stop the run," Canty said. "That's the first goal every week."
The Ravens were without Spears (hamstring) this week, but Harbaugh and Canty both pointed to a breakdown in fundamentals as the chief reason for the struggles. This week's game was the preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium, and the defense is still getting into the rhythm of playing together as a unit.
"We're better than that, and I think our guys are so excited to play that they lost track of their fundamentals a little bit," Harbaugh said.
By adding Canty and Spears to the front seven this offseason, the Ravens built the defense around Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the middle. Ngata can now play more inside where he lines up against the center and guards, rather than moving outside to match up against guards and tackles.
With Ngata inside, the Ravens have been able to get a good push off the line of scrimmage, but the group overall was not on the same page to flock to the football and bring down the ball carriers.
"It wasn't the fact that we were getting knocked around, it was the fact that we did not do a good job of playing team-run defense, and you have to do that," Harbaugh said.
While the defense expressed frustration with its performance against the run, Harbaugh was confident that the issues will be cleaned up quickly.
"The good news is those are things you can correct overnight," Harbaugh said. "Doesn't take much to correct those things. But, it has to get done if we're going to be the team that we hope to be."