Secondary a concern for Harbaugh
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' shaky secondary has become a primary concern as the team strives to stay afloat in the crowded AFC wild-card race.
Playing in Green Bay on Monday night without injured safety Ed Reed (hip) and cornerback Fabian Washington (knee), the Ravens were called four times for pass interference and allowed Aaron Rodgers to pass for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
Not surprisingly, Baltimore lost 27-14.
The Ravens (6-6) trail the Jacksonville Jaguars by one game in the duel for the second and final AFC wild-card spot. None of the four teams left on Baltimore's schedule owns a winning record, but if the Ravens can't improve their pass defense -- beginning Sunday at home against the Detroit Lions (2-10) -- it might not matter.
"Lack of talent isn't the problem around here. It's sad, but it's kind of been the story of our season: We've just been inconsistent," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said Wednesday. "There will be spurts of games or plays where we play well as a defense, then there will be a hiccup here or there. Unfortunately, we're not good enough to play through those hiccups. We've got to eliminate those."
Reed, a five-time Pro Bowler, was a late scratch Monday with a hip injury and is questionable for Detroit. Washington is out for the year after tearing his left ACL. Against Green Bay, second-year pro Tom Zbikowski took over for Reed at safety and rookie Lardarius Webb lined up opposite Foxworth at cornerback.
For that combination to have success, the Ravens needed a solid pass rush. But linebacker Terrell Suggs missed a third straight game with a sprained right knee ligament, leaving Rodgers comfortable enough in the pocket to connect on 26-of-40 passes.
"If our secondary is struggling, the pass rush needs to step up," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We didn't help them out. I'm obviously one of those guys that has to get to the quarterback, and we didn't do that."
The biggest flaw in the defense, however, has been penalties. Those four pass interference calls against the Packers totaled 80 yards, and two of them came during touchdown drives.
"We kind of cleaned it up for a couple of weeks and it showed up again in the Green Bay game. It's on us. We take responsibility for it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There were one or two of them in there you look back and you don't understand, maybe, but there were the other ones that you completely understand the way it's being called this year.
"Guys are doing what you can't do. You can't grab a guy's wrist, you can't grab his arm, you can't hook the arm. We don't even want to get involved with any of the hand-wrestling anymore," Harbaugh said. "That's something we have to take control of and not let happen anymore. It penalizes you too heavily."
Unfortunately for the Ravens, there's been plenty of blame to pass around.
"It hasn't been their guys are better than our guys," Foxworth said. "When we're watching the film, we can easily circle what happened, where the breakdown was. It's not where it's one person breaking down all the time, which would be an easier situation to solve. It's here, there, up front, in the middle, back deep. It's been a series of breakdowns throughout the course of last week's game and throughout the season."
The rule book in its current form isn't helping matters, either.
"That's something they have to look at this offseason," Washington said. "Sometimes it's just receiver and DB battling for position. It's not actually holding or something like that. If they're going to call that type [of contact a penalty], it's virtually impossible to cover those guys."
Said Foxworth: "The rules get tighter and tighter on DBs. It's how the league goes. Some of those calls that happened last week, they were calls we haven't really seen before. We'll stop doing that now and see what else they take away in the future."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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