- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has taken heavy criticism after the Baltimore Ravens allowed two touchdowns in the final four minutes of Sunday's 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers. But general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens' front office has to take their share of the blame for handcuffing Pees with an undermanned and overwhelmed secondary.
How bad has it become for the Ravens? The Ravens are ranked second-to-last in pass defense (only the Atlanta Falcons are worse) and they're on pace to shatter the franchise record for most passing yards allowed.
Much of the Ravens' struggles in the secondary can be traced back to the team's decisions over the past two years:
The Ravens gambled on two cornerbacks developing (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) and lost. They put too much faith in a couple of inexperienced cornerbacks to become the No. 3 cornerback, especially with the injury history of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown was cut earlier this month after getting repeatedly beat, and Jackson went on short-term injured reserve after struggling as well (99th-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus).
The Ravens didn't sign a proven veteran backup this offseason. It's understandable that the Ravens chose not to retain Corey Graham considering the Buffalo Bills signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal. The mistake was failing to add someone the caliber of Brandon Flowers. The Ravens should've made a big push to get Flowers in June before he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chargers. Flowers has three interceptions this season and is currently the fourth-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus. The Ravens have since gone through Dominique Franks, Derek Cox and Aaron Ross (injured) with little success.
Their drafting at the safety position has not produced immediate results. The Ravens addressed safety with a first-round pick last year (Matt Elam) and a third-rounder this year (Terrence Brooks). That's a major investment for a position that still remains a liability. Elam lost his starting job this season after being the worst coverage safety in the NFL and missing 12 tackles. Brooks has had an up-and-down rookie season and was benched Sunday after giving up a touchdown in New Orleans the previous week. He is not making the same consistent impact as the Ravens' other selections in the first three rounds (linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and tight end Crockett Gillmore).
The Ravens did make some good moves this offseason, signing wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Will Hill to bargain deals. They also made the right decision to go with inexperienced Rick Wagner at right tackle.
But the Ravens could tell this summer that the secondary was going to be a major weak spot, and Newsome didn't work his usual magic to add talent there. The season-ending foot injury to Jimmy Smith only underscored the problem.
Pees has tried different combinations to improve the pass defense. The Ravens have started six different cornerbacks and used seven players at safety to no avail.
Now, heading into the final four games of the regular season, the Ravens are going with a struggling Webb (ranks No. 203 out of 214 corners by Pro Football Focus) and converted safety Anthony Levine at cornerback, as well as a constant rotation at safety alongside Hill.
It's easy to rip Pees when the defense gives up 965 yards passing and 61 points the past two games. But you also have to point the finger at Newsome and the front office for the makeshift secondary, which looks like it will be the Ravens' undoing.