Ravens must reconfigure backfield after losing Jefferson
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ depth in the secondary is starting to become an issue for a team that already has had its share of problems defending the pass.
Safety Tony Jefferson sustained a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was placed on injured reserve Monday, joining cornerback Tavon Young, who never made it to the opener.
In addition, the Ravens still are waiting on cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has been out with a sprained knee since Week 1.
In his 35th consecutive start with Baltimore, Jefferson tore his left ACL — and then some — in the fourth quarter.
“It’s more than an ACL,” coach John Harbaugh said.
The void will be filled by a pair of former sixth-round draft picks, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott. The coaching staff also will need to find someone else to wear the headset through which the play calls are relayed from the sideline.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not what we would have chosen,” Harbaugh said. “Tony Jefferson obviously is the heart and soul of us. He’s a leader, he’s a great player. Just a high-energy player. He’s a guy that flies around, makes plays. He’s a communicator for us in the back end. So those are going to be challenging things (to replace).”
Baltimore (3-2) was ranked 30th against the pass before struggling against a pair of Steelers quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.
When the offense sputters and the defense stumbles, the Ravens can always count on Justin Tucker, the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. Tucker tied the score with a 48-yard kick late in the fourth quarter and won it with a 46-yarder in overtime.
That was part of a fine game by the special teams. Rookie Justice Hill ran back a kickoff 46 yards, Sam Koch averaged 51.7 yards on three kicks and the Ravens allowed only 42 yards on three kickoff returns.
However, Baltimore had just one sack and has nine in five games.
“We’ve got to find a way to get more sacks. We’ve got to find a way to get more pressure,” Harbaugh said.
Making matters worse: Third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges broke off a 21-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
“We were all disappointed with that late scramble, for sure,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens host Cincinnati (0-5) on Sunday. The Bengals no longer have Marvin Lewis as their coach and are coming off a home loss to previously winless Arizona.
But Harbaugh wouldn’t dare downplay the significance of Baltimore’s third straight game against an AFC North foe.
“We know we always play knockdown, drag-out games with them,” he said. “We know their players, we know their character. We’re going to have to play our best game.”