Ravens offense still needs defense to score

OWINGS MILLS -- Despite conjuring up a series of undesirable disappearing acts midway through the season, the Baltimore Ravens' major point of pride remains a respectable defense. Even ranking second in the NFL in total defense hasn't been nearly enough, though, to prevent the Ravens from descending into last place in the AFC North.

Because the offense ranks last in scoring (12.1 points per game) and the defense no longer generates as many turnovers as it used to while failing to score a touchdown, it's a predictable formula for losing.

Baltimore (2-6) has produced only nine takeaways compared to 17 midway through last season. Last season, the Ravens finished with 21 interceptions and scored seven defensive touchdowns.

"It's frustrating because we've got to play a perfect game and it's hard to play a perfect game," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "We haven't been making turnovers and when you don't do those things it's hard to win. It's tough to swallow. Your record is who you are.

"We're still striving to be the No. 1 defense. If we go 4-12 and finish No. 1 in defense, it's something to be proud of. Nobody's quitting."

With middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed sidelined with injuries, the Ravens are bereft of the last two NFL Defensive Players of the Year. They're also lacking in the turnover department where they have just four interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

A year ago, Reed intercepted nine passes and returned one an NFL-record 106 yards. This year, Baltimore ranks last in the AFC with a minus-8 turnover differential.

Although the Ravens allow only 99 rushing yards and 163.5 passing yards per contest, they have registered only 19 sacks. That's a far cry from the mayhem predicted when Rex Ryan was promoted to defensive coordinator.

Is it time to gamble on defense since the offense hasn't proven it can score with any regularity?

"You've got to be careful with that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It would be great to score, but you can't come out of structure. We have not given up a lot of big plays.

"You want to maintain that, but you want the other, too. So, it's a fine line to walk sometimes."

The Ravens are far from satisfied even though they rank third overall in yards allowed per play (4.4) and first in the AFC in total defense (262.5 yards per game). However, they are only 28th in interception percentage and 16th in sacks per play.

There's virtually no way to consciously create a turnover other than anticipating quarterbacks' eye movement in pass coverage or making a concerted effort to strip the football away from a fumble-prone running back. Scoring is another unpredictable matter altogether.

"You can't say, ‘OK, this is going to be a turnover defense for a score,'" Billick said. "You just play good defense, you be where you're supposed to be and those things tend to come to you.

"They haven't in the first half of the season and that's certainly part of our equation for success. We have to get back to that."

While controlled aggression has worked to an extent, it might be time for desperate measures considering the offensive ineptitude and the team's dire record.

"At some point you have to be like, ‘Oh well,'" Rolle said. "You got to try something."

When asked if he's reached that point of frustration yet, Rolle replied; "Not yet."
In a 21-9 loss to the Bengals, Baltimore failed to capitalize on four Cincinnati fumbles and only recovered one.

Meanwhile, Baltimore ranks 22nd in third-down defense, allowing a 37.4 percent conversion rate (46 out of 123).

The defense appears to be the main aspect of the team, besides a solid special teams unit, that's capable of playing winning football.

"I don't want to get into separating what's playoff-caliber and what isn't in the same team," Billick said. "We've done some good things defensively. There are some things we need to improve on.

"We need more turnovers. We need to get them off the field on third down. There are a number of things obviously that I'm pleased our defense is doing."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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