A chance to knock Ben­gals out

Penalty prob­lems per­sist, and they’re cost­ing Ravens dearly Win Sun­day would all but end Cincinnati’s post­sea­son hopes

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens have a long list of things they need to im­prove, but maybe most sig­nif­i­cant is their num­ber of penal­ties.

The Ravens are tied for sec­ond in the NFL with 84 in­frac­tions ac­cepted against them, in­clud­ing12 for 136 yards in Sun­day’s 27-17 loss to the Dal­las Cow­boys. That’s not to say that had they cut those to­tals in half, the Ravens would have beaten the Cow­boys. But it sure would have helped.

Some of the Ravens’ prob­lems won’t be fixed un­til next sea­son. It’s not as if they can go out and sign a big-time re­ceiver or a shut­down cor­ner­back to­mor­row, but these penal­ties are putting them in pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tions.

More tal­ented teams, such as the Cow­boys, Seattle Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco watches as an of­fi­cial calls off­side in Sun­day’s game against the Cow­boys, tak­ing the Ravens out of field-goal po­si­tion late in the fourth quar­ter.

The ex­pected three-team bat­tle for the AFC North ti­tle has yet to ma­te­ri­al­ize, and the Ravens can make sure it doesn’t. A day af­ter let­ting a sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­nity get away in a 27-17 loss to the NFL-best Dal­las Cow­boys, the Ravens turned their at­ten­tion to Sun­day’s home matchup with the Cincinnati Ben­gals, and a chance to all but end the sea­son of one of their big­gest ri­vals.

Cincinnati not only dropped a game to the Buf­falo Bills on Sun­day to fall to 3-6-1; the Ben­gals also lost two of their top of­fen­sive play­ers, run­ning back Gio­vani Bernard (knee) and wide re­ceiver A.J. Green (ham­string), to sig­nif­i­cant in­juries. One more loss, and the Ben­gals al­most cer­tainly Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 5

Sea­hawks and New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, can over­come these chal­lenges, but the Ravens sim­ply aren’t good enough. They are 0-3 when com­mit­ting 100-plus yards of penal­ties in games this sea­son.

“Penal­ties are al­ways an is­sue,” tight end Den­nis Pitta said. “You get a big first down, and now you get moved all the way back. It hap­pened to us a cou­ple times. Hope­fully, we can clean that up. That’s part of the game, but you can’t have those big penal­ties.”

Penal­ties have been an on­go­ing prob­lem for the Ravens. For weeks, the en­tire coach­ing staff has em­pha­sized elim­i­nat­ing penal­ties, but it hasn’t worked.

Is it a dis­ci­pline prob­lem? Cer­tainly. The big­gest ques­tion is what the Ravens do about it. Coach John Har­baugh can’t fine play­ers. He could make them run ex­tra gassers, but this is the NFL, not high school. It’s a tough sit­u­a­tion. It’s one thing if these penal­ties keep be­ing called on rook­ies, but they have come against vet­er­ans such as cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah and guard Mar­shal Yanda. Ac­cord­ing to the web­site The Foot­ball Data­base, the Ravens have been called for hold­ing a league-high 22 times.

In Dal­las on Sun­day, there was a lot of “home cook­ing” at AT&T Sta­dium. Cow­boys de­fen­sive backs were hold­ing Ravens re­ceivers, and the Dal­las of­fen­sive line’s rep­u­ta­tion helped it get away with a lot of grab­bing up front.

“You can look at the of­fi­ci­at­ing all you want, you can look at the calls, you can ask your­self whether the calls are be­ing made on both sides all you want,” Har­baugh said. “That’s not go­ing to fix any­thing. We’ve just got to find a way to do it our way, play­ing in such a way we don’t have penal­ties. It comes down to ev­ery coach and ev­ery player. I think it’s a re­flec­tion of the coaches. It’s what we have to do as coaches to make sure our guys play with­out flags fly­ing.”

Even when the Cow­boys get pe­nal­ized, they have enough star tal­ent to re­bound, as they did on their first touch­down drive of the sec­ond quar­ter, af­ter fac­ing a first-and-30 at their own 28-yard line.

If that’s the Ravens, they might as well quick-kick and re­gain fe­lid po­si­tion.

Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg took a lot of crit­i­cism for run­ning the ball just three times in the sec­ond half against Dal­las af­ter Ravens cor­ner­back Jer­raud Pow­ers gets called for in­ter­fer­ing with Cow­boys wide re­ceiver Ter­rance Wil­liams. The penalty set up a Dal­las touch­down. rush­ing for 86 yards on 13 car­ries in the first two quar­ters.

But a lot of times, the Ravens put them­selves in po­si­tions where they had to pass. On their sec­ond pos­ses­sion of the third quar­ter, a 9-yard re­cep­tion by run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon put the Ravens at their own 45, but it was called back be­cause Zut­tah went air­borne and was called for un­nec­es­sary rough­ness.

In­stead of first-and-10, the Ravens faced sec­ond-and-16 at their 30. You prob­a­bly know what hap­pened later. They punted.

By the time the Ravens touched the ball again, on their third pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half, with 11:30 left in the game, they were down 24-10. They had no choice but to throw. Zut­tah also had a hold­ing penalty late in the sec­ond quar­ter that might have pre­vented a touch­down drive. In­stead, the Ravens had to set­tle for a field goal, and Dal­las got the ball back with enough time to an­swer with its own field goal.

“Jeremy had the three penal­ties. Each one is dif­fer­ent. Each one you try to ad­dress specif­i­cally,” Har­baugh said. “I think, in the end, the thing that he rec­og­nizes is that three is too many. Those were drive-killing penal­ties.”

Some of these penal­ties are ex­cus­able. Others aren’t. Matthew Judon was off­side on the kick­off be­fore the Cow­boys’ fi­nal pos­ses­sion. An­thony Levine Sr. got called for hold­ing on a spe­cial teams play again. And then there was Steve Smith Sr. get­ting an un­nec­es­sary-rough­ness penalty af­ter a 7-yard catch on the Ravens’ last drive. Those are about dis­ci­pline. Har­baugh and his play­ers need to be ac­count­able. If re­peat of­fend­ers keep get­ting penal­ties, it’s time to put them on the bench. There is no al­ter­na­tive.

Af­ter Har­baugh’s al­pha-male purge fol­low­ing the team’s Su­per Bowl XLVII win, there was spec­u­la­tion that some of this stuff would be cleaned up be­cause some of the Ravens’ knuck­le­heads, and their in­flu­ence, were gone.

But that hasn’t been the case. The per­son­nel has changed, but the re­sults are still the same. This team can’t ab­sorb penal­ties be­cause the of­fense doesn’t have enough dis­ci­pline to put to­gether three or four long drives ev­ery game.

It’s one thing for cor­ner­back Tavon Young to get a pass-in­ter­fer­ence call for try­ing to be ag­gres­sive in at­tack­ing the ball, and another for reck­less plays such as Zut­tah’s or Smith’s.

When there are penal­ties, good teams make you pay. Just ask the Cow­boys. Worse yet, go ask the Ravens.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

BRAD LOPER/FORT WORTH STAR-TELE­GRAM

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