OWINGS MILLS — One day later, the impact of All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ crushing, clutch tackle on San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles in the closing seconds of fourth quarter still resonates as the biggest, most important play of the Baltimore Ravens’ victory.
However, there’s a healthy amount of concern about a variety of big plays uncharacteristically allowed by the Ravens’ defense against an imposing receiving corps.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers carved up the Ravens for 436 passing yards and two touchdowns. It was the second-most passing yards allowed by Baltimore in franchise history.
Ultimately, the collection of deep strikes didn’t cost the Ravens the game as they engineered a 31-26 win to remain undefeated and atop the AFC North through two games.
"The pass defense stuff is really very correctable," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It’s really a matter of sometimes guys in a big game like that trying to do too much, trying to do more than you have to do.
"Trust the guy next to you a little bit better and stay in position, and we’ll be fine. That was the encouraging part. Our guys see that and it will be corrected."
Still, there are plenty of opposing large receivers looming ahead on the schedule such as Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
And the Ravens have allowed 50 points through two games after ranking second in the NFL in total defense last year.
Against the Chargers, the Ravens surrendered big chunks of yardage through the air, including Sproles’ 81-yard touchdown scamper on a swing pass. Plus, there were receptions from 45, 38 and 37 yards mixed into Rivers’ performance.
"We’re better than what we showed," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "It’s the first time I’ve seen Baltimore Ravens football where the defense can play poorly and get a win. It wasn’t our best, but we can clean that up. There were a lot of errors."
The Ravens shut down the Chargers in the red zone, though, and that proved to be the difference in the game as San Diego went 0-for-5 as far as touchdowns inside the Baltimore 20-yard line.
"I’ve been in games where we’ve held people to 150 yards," Lewis said. "That’s cute. Stats are pretty, but if you don’t win, you’re sick. Bottom line is, when we didn ‘t let them in the end zone. That’s our victory. That’s championship football."
Absolutely true. However, the lack of size at cornerback seems to be an issue that could hint at trouble down the road.
The Ravens typically had sound coverage on Vincent Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound wide receiver. However, he still managed to catch six passes for 141 yards. That included a 38-yard touchdown catch.
And Rivers’ pinpoint accuracy on some of those throws was pretty much insurmountable.
Still, the Ravens’ starting cornerbacks, Foxworth (5-11, 180 pounds) and Fabian Washington (5-11, 180 pounds) were giving up at least six inches and 50 pounds to Jackson.
"Their receivers are huge," Harbaugh said. "You’re not going to find corners like those receivers, that size. They’d have to be 6-foot-6. The next 6-foot-6 corner that comes out of the draft, we’ll be drafting that guy.
"You talk about how big they are. They came out on the field and I was shell-shocked. They are big, athletic, good-looking players."
Immediately following the game, Harbaugh attributed a large portion of the long receptions to simply a big receiver imposing his will on a matchup.
He also said that the Ravens can help the defensive backs out by employing more two-deep coverage schemes as well as generating more of a pass rush.
"I think we can get more pressure in certain situations," Harbaugh said. "They had max protection for the most part. Almost all those big passes were max protection. We were playing deep and they max protected. I just think we’ve got to figure out how to make plays and play a little more two-deep in those situations maybe."
Foxworth had a contrasting opinion, though.
"We’ve got to make plays," Foxworth said. "Speaking for myself, I was in position to make plays, but didn’t. They’ve got some Pro Bowl players over there, and you’ve got to give them credit. To be honest, size wasn’t the only issue.
"I was indecisive at the point whether to go underneath or go over top and knock it down. We’re better than what we showed. This is obviously not our best. It wasn’t them just manning up and destroying us, it was our mistakes and errors, which can be corrected."
Free safety Ed Reed acknowledged that the bend-don’t-break approach isn’t entirely his style.
Reed is accustomed to dictating the tempo to quarterbacks and instinctively picking off passes. Against the Chargers, though, he wasn’t very active at all as he recorded one tackle with no pass deflections.
Down the road, the Ravens won’t see a ton of quarterbacks like Rivers, who led the NFL in touchdown passes and quarterback rating last year.
However, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are certain to watch this game video and will try to use it as a future blueprint for how to attack the Ravens’ pass defense.
"We’re going to see some of these plays again," Reed said. "We’re going to see some great teams with great passing games as a secondary. We know we have to get better. There’s room for improvement, but every team isn’t San Diego.
"We’ve got to buckle down and make those corrections, which we always do. We’re building something. Every win isn’t going to be perfect."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.