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Behind Enemy Lines: Reasons behind Ravens’ regression on defense

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The Ravens defensive struggles go all the way back to the offseason.

NFL: SEP 29 Browns at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bengals are headed to Baltimore for their chance to unseat the division leading Ravens. Cincinnati may be 0-5, but they have usually kept things close with the Ravens despite any difference in talent level. The question may be whether Zac Taylor can continue that during his tenure as the Bengals head coach. This was a great time to catch up with Kyle Barber from Baltimore Beatdown.

Patrick Judis: Lamar Jackson started the year on fire, and he had people thinking he was taking off for a Patrick Mahomes type season. The past few weeks have seen him come back down to earth a little bit. What have been your overall impressions of Jackson the past three weeks?

Kyle Barber: The Ravens always come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. They also have a knack for blowing out the Miami Dolphins. These facts, coupled with the Dolphins being abysmal this season made for an easy start. Now, Jackson is facing NFL-caliber defenses. Teams are also scheming a bit more to contain him and his arm.

I’ve also noticed he is not running or attempting to run. He’s hanging in the pocket and holding the football too long. It’s a strange sight, because you expect him to break loose but it almost feels like he’s determined to kill the ‘running back’ moniker by playing a pure pocket passer. He’s also not letting it loose. His first two games, he played brave football and made the throws. These past three weeks we’ve seen film of him seeing the open man downfield but clutching it and then going for a shorter throw.

PJ: The Ravens’ defense hasn’t been meeting the standards we expect of Baltimore’s defense. What has been the biggest issue they’ve had this season?

KB: The loss of CB Jimmy Smith and CB Tavon Young appear larger than expected. The secondary is/was the strength of this unit but every corner beside Marlon Humphrey is regressing. Anthony Averett appeared to compete for a starting slot role during training camp, including starting reps at times. He’s now lost the job and was healthy scratched for Maurice Canady, who was cut and brought back to the practice squad to begin the year. Brandon Carr is also slowing down, finally, which leaves a lot to be desired in coverage.

The linebacker units’ potential also floundered. With C.J. Mosley signing a mega-deal with the New York Jets, all eyes were on Patrick Onwuasor to take the next step in his progression from UDFA linebacker to starting ‘Will’ to starting ‘Mike.’ Unfortunately, he hasn’t managed to take that step and Kenny Young isn’t there either. Baltimore signed Josh Bynes, a former undrafted linebacker for the Ravens back in 2011, who wasn’t playing this season. The veteran immediately made his presence known with an interception against the Steelers.

The defensive line is also getting beat, badly. Nobody is creating push or pressure, beside maybe the outside linebackers Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee. All the hyped-up young potential on the roster is falling far below expectations.

PJ: Baltimore’s offense has undergone some serious changes since last season. Bengals’ fans got a taste of Jackson last year, but who are some of the new players who are the key pieces for this new offense?

KB: Unfortunately, the new talent may not be playing in this game. Right now, the two most-feared players in the receiving game are dealing with injuries. Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Mark Andrews are without a doubt Jackson’s favorite targets. Outside of those two, get ready for Mark Ingram. He’s the perfect tailback to compliment this offense. He has six rushing touchdowns on the year and I expect to see more with the way he’s playing.

PJ: The Ravens ended up in a close game with the Steelers last week, what did Pittsburgh do to keep the game so close?

KB: The Steelers match up quite well against the Ravens. Their defensive front is capable of battling against the Ravens solid offensive line, with their interior defenders out-muscling the Ravens guards and center. Even though the Ravens offense played well, the Ravens defense once again let up multiple broken coverages which kept the door open for Pittsburgh. Honestly, though, the officiating was the culprit of a close game. Gene Steratore, the CBS Rules Analyst, called out the horrible officiating, including a blatant interception which was clearly in the turf.

A second interception saw the referee not blow the whistle on defensive pass interference when a defender was wrapped around Mark Andrews.

When the Ravens created a takeaway, the refs called on Tony Jefferson for defensive holding. Upon replay review, he didn’t make contact with the defender as he was too busy falling to the turf after suffering a non-contact torn ACL.

Three ugly possession-changing calls/no calls truly helped the Steelers in this game.

I hate calling out the officiating, too, as I understand human error and how fast this game is going. The problem, though, was watching them go into video review and time-after-time hosing the Ravens in favor of the Steelers.

PJ: What is your prediction for the game?

KB: I think this game will go in favor of the Ravens. They get a roll going and score on their first three possessions with the help of Justin Tucker. After starting 13-0 or 13-3, the Ravens answer each time the Bengals get on the board, with a final score of 23-13. I expect Dalton to find Boyd on at least two big plays with broken coverage. The Ravens finally up the pressure on Andy Dalton, which forces some tough errors in the form of an interception or bad third-down incompletions. Jackson will continue to struggle connecting with his wide receivers not named Hollywood and rely heavily on the tight ends and Mark Ingram.

Thanks again to Kyle Barber for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can find more of his work and Ravens’ coverage over at Baltimore Beatdown.