Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Defense Can't Handle Premier Quarterbacks
When you're up by 10 points early and up by 10 points late, you're supposed to win. When you put 33 points on the board and your running back gains more than 100 yards to surpass a thousand for the season, you're supposed to win. When you're at home, where you usually win, and you win the turnover battle (2-0) and need just one defensive stop at any point down the stretch to take the game, you're supposed to win. For all those reasons and more, this was a win-in-the-making for the Ravens that would
have significantly advanced their playoff chances, but they let it slip away for one simple reason: Their defense can't handle premier quarterbacks. San Diego's Philip Rivers picked their secondary apart, just as New Orleans' Drew Brees did last week and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger did earlier this month. In those three games, the quarterbacks opposing the Ravens completed 94 of 127 pass attempts for 1,143 yards, with 12 passes going for touchdowns against two interceptions. Somehow, the Ravens won one of those games, but it's no way to mount a playoff drive. To get where you want to go in the NFL, you have to make a few key stops on defense, even against top-caliber quarterbacks. The Ravens didn't Sunday. Time and again, Rivers and the Chargers just rolled right down the field with the game on the line, producing a devastating defeat against a fellow playoff contender.
Ravens Need More From Pass Rush To Help Unfixable Secondary
As I wrote before this game, I'm not sure what's left for the Ravens to do on the back end of their defense. They've already changed their personnel. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees can't have many tricks left in his little black book of schemes. He tried all sorts of personnel combinations Sunday, but Rivers just sat back and found open receivers all day. Yes, Rivers is really good, and in the secondary's defense, he was seldom under pressure, hit just five times on 47 total dropbacks. "We didn't do enough" to pressure him, linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. If we've learned anything, it's that this defense needs a quality pass rush to make stops – and when they aren't coming, the unit is in trouble. Fortunately for the Ravens, none of the quarterbacks left on their schedule match the caliber of Rivers, Brees and Roethlisberger. But with their pass defense ranked near the bottom of the league, the Ravens can't take any opponent for granted.
Offense Played Well, But Left Points On Field
The Ravens offense played more than well enough to win, utilizing a nice run-pass balance to roll up 24 first downs and score on seven of nine possessions. But it did leave some points on the field that could have changed things dramatically at the end. The Ravens made seven trips to the red zone, which is a lot, but four resulted in field goals, keeping the Ravens from building a bigger lead, especially early on. San Diego's defense came into the game with a poor red-zone record, ranked No. 26 in the league, but it was stout Sunday, especially against the run. The Ravens ran the ball effectively overall, gaining 125 yards on 32 carries, but in the red zone, they gained just 19 yards on 11 attempts. "We probably would like to run the ball better in those situations," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Sloppy Play From Both Sides, But Baltimore Was Sloppier**
Aside from red-zone inefficiency, the other issue that hamstrung the Ravens was, well, yellow flags falling in a flurry. The Ravens committed 14 penalties, such a startling total that the media relations department dug out its record book and discovered that only once in their history have the Ravens committed more penalties in a game. That was in 2005, when they had 21 in the infamous Flag Bowl in Detroit. (They have committed 14 three other times.) Dumervil was flagged three times for lining up in the neutral zone, the last time negating what could have been a decisive sack of Rivers on San Diego's game-winning drive. Otherwise, the flags repeatedly inserted themselves at key times. Illegal contact on Matt Elam. Holding on Matt Elam. Holding on Daryl Smith. Illegal use of hands on Eugene Monroe and Terrell Suggs. Pass interference on Anthony Levine. Before you cry foul, the Chargers also were flagged eight times, with a handful of the calls extending Baltimore drives and setting up scores. It was just a sloppy game all around, and the Ravens were sloppier. "Too many penalties, no question about it," Ravens Head Coach Joh Harbaugh said.
San Diego's 81.8-percent conversion rate on third downs (9 of 11) was the highest by an opponent in Ravens history … The Chargers used a short-kickoff strategy to keep Jacoby Jones from making returns, but it backfired. The first three times they tried it, the Ravens began possessions at their 31, 39 and 47, excellent field position … Marlon Brown made several key third-down receptions, including a one-handed grab that led to a touchdown, before leaving with a concussion … The Ravens blew a terrific chance to make gains in the AFC North, as both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns lost. But the Ravens' defeat made it three for the division on a day when the sole winners were the Cincinnati Bengals, who didn't play well but tightened their grip on first place by surviving an upset bid in Tampa.