BALTIMORE — What else can be said about the Ravens’ pass defense following a 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday?
The final result was surprising considering the Ravens’ sterling reputation for winning home games over the years, but they haven’t stopped potent passing games all season. Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers picked apart the Ravens secondary to the tune of 383 yards and three touchdown passes, two coming in the final four minutes of the game.
Baltimore has allowed at least 321 passing yards in three of the last four games and 27 or more points in four of the last five. The pass defense simply isn’t getting better with the current personnel and while the coaching staff and players will continue to look for ways to improve, observers are better suited throwing up their hands and acknowledging it as the Ravens’ Achilles heel — if not their fatal flaw — for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Expecting the Ravens to stop any top quarterback is an effort in vain at this point.
After acknowledging the shoddy pass defense as the biggest reason why the Ravens squandered a golden opportunity to improve to 8-4, you can look at other areas that might have made the difference Sunday. It’s in these facets where the Ravens needed to be sharp and they weren’t as 14 penalties for 98 yards painted just one example of the sloppy play.
You’d be hard pressed not to look at what was a productive offense Sunday and still wonder if the unit could’ve done just a smidgen more. Sam Koch only punted once as the Ravens moved the ball up and down the field all afternoon, but seven red-zone trips resulted in only three touchdowns, leading to the Chargers still having a chance late in the game.
It was especially worrisome in the first half when the Ravens were only 1-for-4 in scoring touchdowns on trips inside the 20, leading to San Diego trailing by just six at intermission. San Diego entered the game ranking 26th in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 64.5 percent of drives moving inside the 20.
The Ravens didn’t take advantage.
“It was the difference in the game,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who caught two touchdowns in Sunday’s loss. “We wouldn’t have had to worry about them scoring at the end if we had scored more touchdowns at the end of the game. The defense wouldn’t have been under pressure like they were, and we have to take responsibility for that.”
Players on both sides of the ball took accountability after the game for what they could have done better, but the offensive players know the truth as 33 points should have been more than enough to win. They have the better overall unit and will need to carry the heavier load down the stretch if the Ravens are to advance to the playoffs and make any noise when they get there.
It’s just reality.
The Ravens entered Week 13 ranking in the top 10 in total yards and points scored, but their 16th-ranked red-zone offense is a major factor holding them back from being a truly great unit. Baltimore would benefit from another reliable receiver to use inside the red zone — the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta continues to be felt — but mistakes and mishaps inside the 20 hurt Baltimore on Sunday.
Just before the two-minute warning in the second quarter, left tackle Eugene Monroe was called for illegal use of the hands, wiping out a first-down completion and instead creating a second-and-19 from the 26 at the two-minute warning. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal for the third time in the half.
And even after twice scoring touchdowns in their first two red-zone trips of the second half, the Ravens were set up on a short field following a 72-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones late in the fourth quarter. They owned a three-point lead and had the ball on the San Diego 30 with just 3:40 remaining in the game.
A touchdown would have sealed the win. Instead, the Ravens managed only one first down and the Chargers used their timeouts to force a third-and-4 at the 13-yard line when Joe Flacco threw incomplete to fullback Kyle Juszczyck with 2:32 remaining. After the game, the question was asked whether the Ravens should have run the ball in that spot, which would have at least guaranteed the clock running down to the two-minute warning.
“That was a consideration. We were trying to get the first down though,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We wanted to be aggressive and try to get the first down and try to close the game out if we could. That’s what we tried to do there. You can look at it both ways. You can play it completely towards clock management. They were bringing everybody. We might’ve popped the run anyway, but we felt like we had a good [play] call.”
Good decision or not, it didn’t work and was a disappointing finish to an otherwise productive day for the offense. And it put the Ravens’ fate back in the hands of the defense to do something it hadn’t been able to do most of the day — stop Rivers.
The defense couldn’t do it.
With four games remaining and their pass defense one of the worst in the league, the Ravens will only go as far as Flacco and their offense will take them. And even with a horrendous defensive performance on Sunday, just one more touchdown would have gotten the Ravens over the hump to secure a win.
Divide the blame however you’d like, but the collective effort resulted in the Ravens falling to 7-5 overall and 6-1 when leading after three quarters this season.
“When your offense is able to put up points like they did today, we expect to close out games, finish, and make the plays at the end to help our team win,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We were not able to hold up our end of the bargain today. It stings a little bit. This was a pivotal game, a great opportunity for us, and we let it get away.”
Did the offense deserve a much better fate with a 33-point performance? Absolutely.
But regardless of what had occurred over the first 57 minutes of the game, neither side of the ball could finish off a win on Sunday.
And it has the Ravens in an uncomfortable position entering the final quarter of the regular season.