Ravens Need Defensive Improvements

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Haloti Ngata  believes the Ravens' defense is unstoppable on most occasions.

Unfortunately, whenever a few members of that unit experience a small slip in concentration, opposing teams have made them pay.

Baltimore is coming off their second-consecutive game where the defense gave up a 100-yard rusher. That phenomenon hadn't occurred since 2005.

And if Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco had gained just 6 more yards, it would have been two-straight weeks with a receiver topping the century mark, something that hasn't taken place since Weeks 14-15 of 2007.

The Ravens know there are some things fix on their defense.

Ngata believes the answer is elementary.

"When we watch film, if we play technically-sound football, there's no way anybody can beat us," Ngata said. "When those big plays happen, there are two or three guys that get off their technique, and that's when they're able to hit a big run or throw a big pass. That goes for D-line, the linebackers and the DBs."

When teams have had success against a once-stingy Ravens defense, the gains have come in large chunks. Baltimore has been stung by 25 plays of 20 yards or more, resulting in a precipitous dip to the NFL's 17th-best unit.

Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, running back Adrian Peterson galloped 58 yards when he bounced around the left edge and outran linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs before he was desperately pushed out of bounds by linebacker Tavares Gooden.

Peterson also excited the raucous crowd at a packed Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome with a 26-yard sprint up the middle in the first quarter.

Ngata blamed himself for that one.

"Instead of me being the B gap, I got into the A gap," Ngata said. "What happened? Adrian Peterson broke off a long run. It was in the first quarter. If I had played technically-sound football, that wouldn't have happened."

Erase those two snaps, and Peterson's tally for the day goes from 143 rushing yards to 59.

According to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, those are just two prime examples of how players need to execute their individual jobs.

"We broke down on two plays, and that's what happens," said Mattison. "He's a great running back. When you let him have the edge, he's going to get a big gain. Our outside guys have to hold the edge and the guys inside have to maintain gap integrity."

It is not simply stopping the run that is causing concern among Baltimore fans and football pundits. The Ravens' pass defense - rated 27th in the league with 241.5 yards allowed per game - has been much maligned.

In the Vikings game, quarterback Brett Favre, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns, connected with wideout Sidney Rice for 63- and 58-yard gains.

Cornerback Fabian Washington was benched, a decision Harbaugh for which took credit and one that Washington agreed with. Frank Walker was flagged for two long pass-interference penalties. And, safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry have been caught out of position at times this year.

"We just have to make sure we're all on the same page," said Landry. "We don't get down on ourselves or point fingers. We just have to get better and learn from our experiences."

Mattison warns of focusing too close on the secondary. He believes a defensive back's best friend is a solid pass rush, and the Ravens defensive front has not been getting to opposing quarterbacks as much as he would like.

"I think it's got to improve," Mattison explained. "We look at every snap for their offense, and if a guy is one-on-one blocked it's not acceptable. Unless they are maximum protecting, there's going to be one or two guys that are one-on-one, and I think we've got to do a better job of beating that one-on-one and getting to that quarterback."

Head coach John Harbaugh agrees with Mattison and Ngata. He thinks that it the Ravens' defensive struggles are not the result of growing pains as Mattison steps into Rex Ryan's longtime role. Nor does he think the Ravens are missing linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard, who followed Ryan to the New York Jets.

"Whatever struggles we've had on defense are not due to who's not here," Harbaugh said. "We've got plenty of good coaches and plenty of good players to play good defense. Is there a transition? There's always a transition. That's something that I think is natural. It's not a transition that we can't play great defense through, and we intend to."

But can the Ravens transition from a middling defense to one that annually ranked among the NFL's best?

"If we just play our technique and the O-linemen block us one-on-one," Ngata stated. "Up front, we had to play better technique. When we do, we're unstoppable."

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