Ravens' run defense falters against New England

OWINGS MILLS -- Ultimately, the burden of tackling powerful running back Corey Dillon while dwelling on the field for the majority of the game because of an ineffectual offense was too much for the Baltimore Ravens' defense to handle.<br><br> In a sloppy 24-3 loss to the New England Patriots, the Ravens' usually stout run defense faltered as Dillon became the third running back to eclipse 100 yards this season against Baltimore (7-4) with 123 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.

Dillon consistently beat the Ravens to the corner. He roughly stiff-armed cornerback Corey Fuller and others into the muck. And safety Ed Reed, a top candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, was left spinning around in a circle on another missed tackle like a matador.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said the Ravens missed a season-high 15 tackles.
"We didn't do a good job of tackling," Nolan said. "That's a bad day for us. Some teams can live with that, but we don't. I hear so many excuses from different guys, but there really is no excuse. Our barometer is a lot different.

"The frustration for us late in the game was wanting to score. Guys started trying to do things and they popped a few runs. That's something you fight when you're playing a great team and you're a competitive group."

Compounding the problem was the Patriots being able to run 72 offensive plays for 314 yards of total offense with 35:54 of time of possession. The Ravens set a franchise-low with 124 yards of total offense on 59 plays and had the football for only 24:06. The Ravens only ran it 20 times for 77 yards.

"The truth of the matter is we're out there a lot," Nolan said.
Baltimore dropped to 11th in the NFL against the run (107.7), but ranks second in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.5).

The Patriots' commitment to running the football was evident, attempting 41 runs for 144 yards. They averaged only 3.5 yards per carry, converting 6 of 17 third downs (35 percent).

"To me, running the football is where it's at," Nolan said. "The disappointing thing for us is when we got them on third down, we didn't get them off and allowed them another opportunity to hand the ball off."

The Ravens' defense is tied with the Miami Dolphins for the most three-and-outs (46). Against New England, Baltimore forced four three-and-outs in the first half and only one in the second half as Dillon rushed for 83 yards after halftime. Plus, Baltimore didn't generate any turnovers.

"We need to do a better job on third downs, so that extra running play doesn't occur," Nolan said.

Over the last four years, Baltimore has allowed only 11 100-yard rushers, tied for the fewest in the league with the Tennessee Titans.

They've already allowed three this season to the Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes (125), New York Jets' Curtis Martin (119) and now Dillon. Last season, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Miami's Ricky Williams were the only two backs to do so, gaining 105 yards apiece.

The Patriots attacked the perimeter and gained few yards up the gut.
"They got to the edge pretty well," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We need to set the edge better, either schematically or the individuals. We had to start doing things to disrupt and make things happen and we left ourselves vulnerable."

Teams have either followed the strategy of running directly at linebacker Ray Lewis, as Kansas City did with physical isolation plays, or they have spread Baltimore out with extra wide receivers.

"Those are two wide-ranging philosophies, we see them both," Nolan said. "It's not a novel idea. Corey Dillon didn't get his yards downhill, he got them outside. On his 18-yard run, he read the outside linebacker and turns it up inside the tackle.

"There's a structure. It's not just sandlot football. They adjusted, which was smart. We adjusted, but we didn't set the edge on the outside."

Nolan said he had no issue whatsoever with his players' effort level.
"I don't think our guys quit on it," Nolan said. "It's uncharacteristic of us. We didn't perform as well in the fourth quarter as we like."

Nolan, whose defense will face off Sunday with the Cincinnati Bengals' gritty runner Rudi Johnson coming off his 200-yard game against Cleveland, said he's not going to overreact.

"You don't want to chase a ghost," Nolan said. "If we try to rob Peter to pay Paul, we'll be talking about pass coverage next week.. I'm concerned about getting off the field more than the integrity of what we're doing."

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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