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Can the Baltimore Ravens fix Dean Pees' defense?

Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has certainly seen his share of success, in Baltimore and elsewhere. But with the lack of defensive leadership, budding stars, and turnover production, is his approach beginning to prove ineffective for this team and this time?

Unfortunately, the buck must stop somewhere.

The popular slant on Sunday's 35-6 drubbing of the Ravens at the hands of the Seahawks is that they are "elite," and they destroyed a subpar opponent.

I don't buy it.

The Seahawks have entered a unique time in their season.  Without the services of Marshawn Lynch, they've had to adjust their strategy and rely on the strengths of their other offensive superstar.  The one who pines to lead his teammates ("It's what I'm made for"), to be a role model.  The one whose arm is vastly underrated.  Russell Wilson.

So they go on a tear and shock the NFL world with their now pass-oriented O.

Yet, Seattle has only beaten two teams with winning records--actually, .500 or better--all season.

What I am saying is that their Super reputation precedes them, and while their defense is playing well, they are not impenetrable.  They are not 2000 Ravens-good.  They are not even 2013 Seahawks-good.  Ravens interim QB Jimmy Clausen proved that by getting a career high in passing yards on them, and getting sacked in the backfield only 1 time.

So the question becomes, who is responsible?

More buzz about the Ravens recently has pointed at improved play from their defensive backfield.  Conversely, anyone watching the game yesterday saw a plethora of mistakes on the back end, admittedly ranging from communication issues to technique issues, according to Coach John Harbaugh.

It was bad. It has to be better than that. It’s no individual guy’s fault, it’s just not as good as it needs to be. I’ll take responsibility for that. We have to play way, way better pass defense. We have to play better in pass defense. And those guys are good players and all that, but you have to cover guys closer, you have to be on the right guy, all those kind of things. We’ll go to work on it, and we’ll find a way to do it better. It’s not complicated stuff. We’ll keep working on it.

Why are the players still having trouble with these things, this late in the season?

Why was the coverage soft and tentative?  What was the strategy?

If we know that the Ravens have been working at 'bend-but-don't-break and disallow any big plays,' we know that they amplified that take yesterday.  They put Safety Terrence Brooks at the line as a spy for Russell Wilson, who usually kills with his legs, and they tried to keep everything in front of them.

This meant giving up slant pattern after slant pattern, crossing pattern after crossing pattern.  It was truly murderous to watch, if one is a Ravens fan.  The killing fact, though, is that players did not adjust to different situations.  They did not adjust to coverage soft spots. They did not seem to adjust to being in the Red Zone.  They did not adjust for holes that coverage left open because someone took another assignment.  In week 13 of the season, the players are still very confused.

Here is just one example: In  this still, DB Shareece Wright, #35, does not position himself to take advantage of/protect the weak zone on the field.  He is the only one who could get a jump start on the route, but he hesitated.

Watch the motion clip of the same play and look for Wright.  You will see the moment's worth of hesitation.

This points to the scheme-maker.

Dean Pees had a mutual parting of ways from New England back in 2009, when the Ravens gave the Patriots their first home playoff loss in the Belichick era.  That was the game where Ray Rice went 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play.  One wondered why a Super-Bowl experienced and successful coordinator washed out.

At first glance, his schemes are pretty daunting for the opposing quarterback: creative blitzes and disguised coverages.  It used to be a no-brainer that the Ravens would obliterate young quarterbacks because of a combination of pass rush and coverage trickery.

Now, the last time that I can recall that happening is when the Ravens won the AFC championship in 2012-3, truly stunning Brady in the process.

Something has gone wayward, and it could be the loss of key leaders and veterans, but it more likely is that younger and newer players are made tentative by his myriad of schemes and systems.  Pees himself cited Jimmy Smith for being tentative early in the year. In rebuilding or retooling, one needs veterans who can help navigate the younger players and newer players as things are reset for greatness.

The problem here is, no one knows enough of the system to do that.  It seems too difficult to learn.

The strategy for Seattle, clearly, was a mistake.  It seems that Pees felt that Russell Wilson would get confused and make mistakes.  I thought, early in the week, that it was possible that the Seahawks would consult Jim Harbaugh for notes on how the 49ers used to face and harass Wilson in his tenure.  Clearly they did not talk with, or go with, Jim Harbaugh and his approach, which was to blitz him up and down the field, and force him to pass under duress.  That approach had a downfall in that if Wilson escaped the pressure, he was absolutely lethal.

The problem with Pees' approach yesterday is that  he badly underestimated Wilson's ability and comfort in the pocket.  I do not understand why.  Wilson came in with a franchise record for touchdowns in 3 straight games, which he extended.  Going back, Wilson threw 17 TDs to 0 INTs his first year of starting in college.  His final year, at Wisconsin, he threw 33 TDs to 2 Interceptions.  Against Big Ten defenses.  No one does that, as a first-year transfer, unless he is good in the pocket.  Fast Forward to Super Bowl XLIX, which saw Wilson drive down the field, in the last minute, to the one yard line against a Patriots defense.  Not an easy feat.  Sure, he throws up prayers, but they are answered far more often than not.  Accurate, catch-able prayers.  Giving him a lot of time was not only a dire mistake from the pocket perspective, it also assumes that coverage will be intact, which it was far from being.

I highly recommend going back and watching the first half yesterday.  There are opportunities that the defense missed.  Brooks had his hands on the ball inside of the Seattle 10 for a sure touchdown, and dropped it.  A midfield Wilson pass ricocheted into the air, only to fall helplessly to the ground, no Ravens player within striking distance.  Players are not anticipating the ball because they are too busy trying to make sure they're in the right place.  And then they fail at that.

Dean Pees has asserted on a number of occasions that the Ravens approach does not begrudge yards, it begrudges big plays.  Despite that, yesterday saw a 49 yard TD pass and a TD pass on 2nd and 20 from outside the red zone.  And more.

The Ravens need to get back to begrudging Every.  Single.  Yard.

To daring QBs to pass and stuffing the run.  Regardless of who it is.

To developing some brazen, man-dog, on-field leaders to inspire the rest of the men.  To create stars who are plug-and-play and can excel by being freed to doing what they do best.  Playing defensive football.

Even with the top draft pick, even with picking the top corner and safety in the draft, this is not promised under Pees' system.

Because his does not create stars.  The system itself is the star.

That may work in New England, but it doesn't work here.  This is a blue-collar team for a blue-collar town.  The heroes must be actual and the football must be physical.

Therefore, the only option is for Dean Pees to go.

It doesn't thrill me to reach this conclusion, but yesterday wast the final straw.  Seattle made it look easy and a lot of that was the Ravens' fault.  Yes, there was the fumble before the half, but the TD was too easy, and the lack of turnovers is alarming.  Not getting interceptions could very well be the result of players out of position and unwilling to gamble like Sherman did Sunday, coming off coverage to score a pick.  This is precipitate of not knowing what to do within a scheme.

To believe that it can improve is a mistake.  There are candidates out there who would bring back attacking Ravens' style D.

They cannot get better without it.

In my next article, I will break down (with video clips and all-22 film) more of the miscues by the secondary.