The Ravens entered the offseason following an (8-8) 2016 campaign, with a few obvious roster holes to fill. And for the most part they’ve taken care of all their needs on defense, save for the spot vacated by the retired Zachary Orr. The hope is that second-year player Kamalei Correa, 2016’s second-round selection, steps up to earn that job.
Ozzie Newsome’s first four selections in the 2017 NFL Draft were defensive players and two of their three free agent signings were on defenders, namely S Tony Jefferson and CB Brandon Carr. Suffice it to say that most of their offseason “capital” was invested in the unit led by Dean Pees.
Pees will be 68 once the 2017 season begins, making him the fourth oldest defensive coordinator, behind Dick LeBeau (80), Wade Phillips (70) and Rod Marinelli (68). The average age of all the NFL’s defensive coordinators is 52. Clearly Pees is an elder statesman amongst his peers. And given the club’s investment in defense since falling to the Bengals back in January, it’s put up or shut up time for the much-maligned coach, who even more so than his boss John Harbaugh, is on the hot seat this coming season.
The organization has been haunted by fourth quarter leads blown by Pees’ defenses dating back to the 2014 season when the Ravens let two 14-point leads slip away during their Division Playoff Game against the Patriots in New England. Since then, the Ravens have lost six times after squandering fourth quarter leads, the most crushing of which took place on Christmas Day of 2016 in Pittsburgh. Who could ever forget how Pees’ squad, perhaps caught up in the spirit of the Season, gave away 205 yards and 21 points in the fourth quarter alone?
And this isn’t a new development for Dean Pees-led defenses.
Traits of a soft, bend-and-break defense, go back to Pees’ days as the Patriots defensive coordinator. During the 2009 campaign, Pees’ last season in New England, the Patriots held a 31-14 lead over the Colts in the fourth quarter on November 15th only to lose the game 35-34. Three weeks later after being dismantled by the Saints in New Orleans, 38-17, the Patriots blew a 21-13 lead in Miami, eventually losing 22-21 following a Dan Carpenter field goal at the 1:02 mark of the fourth quarter.
Fast forward to January 3, 2010 when the Patriots traveled to Houston to take on the Texans. With their playoff spot already secure, Bill Belichick opted to go with his starters for much of the game. The Patriots carried a 27-13 lead into the fourth quarter only to surrender three touchdowns in the final frame, eventually losing by the score of 34-27.
The Patriots ranked fifth in fewest points allowed in 2009, although the defense — which was transitioning from a veteran unit to one with more youth — struggled to close out games at times. ~ ESPN
And then there’s Super Bowl 47…
The Ravens were up 28-6 at the halfway mark of the third quarter. Four minutes later they were up 28-23, a lead they carried into the fourth quarter. Of course, they were able to preserve the win in the end, but watching a commanding lead nearly evaporate on the grandest sports stage of all was excruciating.
Imagine if the Ravens had blown that fourth quarter lead…
To his credit, Pees is a student of the game with vast experiences and he commands the respect of his peers and players. Yet there’s no denying that something bad regularly happens when he’s at the controls late in a football game. Fear of the big play takes over. Secondary play goes soft and looks confused. Good quarterbacks begin to gut the soft, white underbelly of a defense that just rolls over.
In 2017, this disturbing trend has to change. There can be no more excuses during Harbaugh’s postgame pressers. The Ravens have bestowed upon Pees all the ingredients for success.
But sometimes the finest ingredients in the world may not mean squat if the Executive Chef is nothing more than a line cook from the local greasy spoon.