Ravens' leaky defense defies franchise's proud tradition

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens have long been known for their rugged, stingy defense.

That reputation has been soiled this season by a unit that would make Ray Lewis cringe.

The Ravens rank 24th overall in total defense, are yielding an average of 27.4 points per game and have allowed the opposition to convert nearly half its third-down plays. In a 33-30 loss to Cleveland on Sunday, Josh McCown threw for 457 yards and the Browns racked up 505 yards of offense.

Thus, the Ravens (1-4) are off to the worst start in franchise history.

Baltimore won two Super Bowls behind a defense that featured Lewis clogging the middle and Ed Reed keeping tabs on the back end. From 1999 through 2011, the Ravens finished in the top 10 in defense every year but one.

The cast of characters has changed, and so have the results. Lewis and Reed retired, 350-pound tackle Haloti Ngata was traded to Detroit in March and sack-specialist Terrell Suggs is lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Those who remain are intent upon upholding a standard that has carried this team for two decades.

''Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, those guys are remarkable players that set up our organization's tradition,'' cornerback Jimmy Smith said Wednesday.

''It's huge for us to keep that alive and keep it going. They taught us a lot before they left - how to prepare and all that - and that's something I have to relate to the younger guys to keep that tradition alive here.''

The Ravens defense has a reputation for being physical, brash and in-your-face nasty. This season's version has displayed none of that.

''We have to play with more aggressiveness, play with more confidence,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''Play it. Go cover people. Go attack the quarterback.''

Middle linebacker Daryl Smith left Jacksonville after nine seasons in 2013 to join the Ravens because he wanted to carry on a defensive tradition that was well known around the league. Smith led the team with 123 tackles in his first season in Baltimore, had 127 last season and leads the club with 46 this season.

He derives little satisfaction from those numbers because this defense is not as it once was.

''It feels terrible,'' Smith said. ''Everything this franchise has done in the past, we don't want to be the guys to offset that. So we've got to find our way, and I believe we will.''

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is trying to do his best, but it's obviously been a struggle. Heck, even Oakland's Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns against this bunch.

''We have success a high percentage of the time, but then we give up big plays,'' Harbaugh said.

Usually, the timing couldn't be worse. In losses to Oakland, Cincinnati and Cleveland, the Ravens led in the fourth quarter but couldn't close it out.

''We've got to step up,'' tackle Brandon Williams said. ''The biggest thing we have to do as a defense is finish.''

Penalties have hurt, too. The Ravens were flagged 12 times Sunday, twice lining up offside during a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that put Cleveland in front.

The problems are so vast, it's impossible to focus on just one.

''It's quite a few things,'' Daryl Smith said. ''We're searching for it, and hopefully we find the answer this week.''

Baltimore faces San Francisco on Sunday. It's being billed as a Super Bowl rematch from February 2013, but both teams are 1-4.

''It's unfortunate that we're both in the same situation right now,'' quarterback Joe Flacco said, ''because we feel as though we have a better team. I'm sure they feel the same way.''

Notes: The Ravens placed RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) on injured reserve and claimed RB Raheem Mostert off waivers from Miami. ... WR Steve Smith (back) and TE Crockett Gillmore (calf) both dressed for practice Wednesday. Justin Forsett (ankle) did not suit up. ... CB Shareece Wright, signed as a free agent Tuesday after being cut by San Francisco, practiced with the Ravens for the first time Wednesday. He chose to sign with Baltimore after talking to Jimmy Smith, his former high school teammate.

---

Online:

http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.