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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Entering the bye week with the Ravens sporting a losing record this late in the season for the first time in his six-year tenure, it was clear head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t in a jovial mood while meeting with reporters on Monday.
Offering short answers with little elaboration on several occasions, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens need to improve in every phase of the game after a 3-4 start to the season. After the Ravens traded the recently-demoted left tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, the Baltimore coach said his team will explore every channel — internally or externally — to turn around a season that now includes a two-game deficit with AFC North-leading Cincinnati.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll trade guys. We’ll cut guys. We’ll sign guys. We’ll coach guys. We’ll change schemes. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to find a way to get better. That’s the business we’re in.”
The issues with the running game and offensive line are well-documented through the first seven weeks of the season, but Harbaugh was critical of a running game that surrendered 141 yards on the ground in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their AFC North foe entered Week 7 averaging just 61 rushing yards per game, but the Ravens gave up at least 140 yards on the ground for the third time in four games.
Harbaugh was even more critical of Jerry Rosburg’s special-teams units after reserve safety Jeromy Miles was offside on Justin Tucker’s failed onside kick attempt with 13:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the kickoff team lost outside containment on Steelers returner Emmanuel Sanders 44-yard kickoff return to set up Pittsburgh at its 37 to begin its final drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal. Realistically speaking, the Ravens could make a few changes to impact their special teams more easily than finding impact players on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
Disappointing free safety Michael Huff was one of several players who failed to hold outside contain on that final kick return and was limited to just five special-teams plays on Sunday after he was initially signed to a three-year, $6 million contract to serve as the team’s starting free safety. He was benched after the season opener and has made little impact on special teams while playing sparingly in the Ravens’ dime package.
“We’ve got to play better on special teams; we’re going to go find some guys that want to play special teams,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to have guys out there letting the ball run outside of them; that’s unheard of. We’re not going to run a surprise onside kick and not know what we’re doing; we’ll go to work on that. If it means changing people out, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Like last year, the Ravens will enjoy their bye during Week 8, but their 3-4 record has prompted plenty of frustration. Baltimore didn’t exactly enter last year’s bye on a high note after the Houston Texans dismantled them in a 43-13 final, but a 5-2 record was easier to swallow.
Players will continue to put in work at the team’s Owings Mills facility through Wednesday afternoon before being dismissed for four straight days off as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.
“The biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games,” Harbaugh said. “Last year, we won the close games. We’ve got to get hot a little bit and win some close games. It’s going to be a long season, and we have an opportunity going forward. We’ve just got to become a good football team.”
Osemele playing through back ailment
Struggling left guard Kelechi Osemele told Sports Illustrated after Sunday’s game that he is dealing with a disc problem in his back that will require surgery in the offseason, prompting questions about the second-year lineman’s health.
Osemele missed most of the Ravens’ Week 5 win over Miami as he dealt with back spasms that surfaced during pre-game warmups, but the 2012 second-round pick appears to be pushing through the injury for now.
“Most players in the league have something along those lines that way, so he fights through it,” said Harbaugh, who was initially dismissive of the report but didn’t firmly address whether surgery would be in order. “He had the same issue last year [and] he fought through it last year. All the guys have things like that. All those things get addressed in the offseason if it needed to be addressed. We looked at it last year — it wasn’t addressed that way. Maybe this year it will be, but I really don’t know.”
An exchange between Osemele and another Twitter user last week prompted further suspicion, but trying to draw conclusions based solely on a social media site is difficult. Both Osemele and the Ravens declined comment in requests made by WNST.net and portions of the conversation have since been deleted on the player’s verified Twitter account.
“I respect [that] K.O.’s tough. All those guys are,” Harbaugh said. “Anybody in this league that plays in this league with the physical demands that this game puts on you, you have to respect, especially those guys in the trenches. He’s no different than most of the guys that way.”
Positive review for McClain’s return
Harbaugh praised linebacker Jameel McClain’s effort in making his return to game action for the first time since suffering a spinal cord contusion on Dec. 9 of last season.
Filling in for the injured Josh Bynes, who underwent surgery on an infected finger late last week, McClain played 30 defensive snaps and collected five tackles while also serving on some special-teams units. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last week that McClain would be the team’s weakside inside linebacker upon being activated, so it will be interesting to see how both McClain and Bynes fit into the defensive plans when they’re both healthy.
“Given the circumstances, [he] probably played really well,” Harbaugh said. “[He] hadn’t played for a long time, hadn’t practiced much, was throw into a situation because of Josh’s situation where he had to play quite a few snaps. He did a solid job, and he’s only going to get better from here on out. He came out of it healthy, so that’s important. He’ll really benefit from the next couple days of work.”
Suggs’ ‘state of emergency’
Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs provided the greatest sense of alarm following the 19-16 loss to the Steelers, describing the Ravens as being in “a state of emergency” as they enter the bye week.
Harbaugh didn’t express agreement with those words but echoed the sentiment he shared last week in which he thought some frustration to get better was a positive for his struggling team. Suggs said he was very concerned and that the Ravens could no longer kid themselves over the seriousness of their problems in every phase of the game.
“All the guys have a right to say whatever they think,” Harbaugh said. “If that is how Terrell sees it, then that’s good. A sense of urgency is a good thing.”