OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens’ depth in the secondary is starting to become an issue for a team that’s already 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 are still waiting on cornerback Jimmy Smith, who’s 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 will also 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 Pittsburgh 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 game 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.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Baltimore had just one sack and has only 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.
Signed last Wednesday, linebacker Josh Bynes contributed an interception and three tackles against the Steelers. Saying Bynes played “remarkably well,” Harbaugh added, “He was in the right spot. He played hard. His coverage was solid.”
Lamar Jackson had a tough time of it, throwing for only 161 yards, taking five sacks and getting intercepted three times.
He did, however, run for a team-high 70 yards.
“In many ways, he won the game for us,” Harbaugh said. “But Lamar is going to tell you that he needs to play a lot better.”
Jefferson’s injury was the big one, but tight end Mark Andrews has been working through a foot injury and rookie receiver Marquise Brown missed time Sunday with a right ankle injury.
Harbaugh called Brown’s injury “nothing serious.”
In accordance with putting Jefferson on IR, the Ravens signed receiver Sean Modster to the practice squad.
1,003 — That’s how many yards rushing Jackson has through 21 games, tied with teammate Robert Griffin III as quickest to 1,000 yards by a quarterback in NFL history.
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.”
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