Expectations still high for Ravens defense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was asked whether he thought the Baltimore Ravens' defense could still be a top-five unit this season.

"I think we can be higher than that," Pees replied without any hesitation. "The sky is the limit."

The defense hasn't been as good as expected this preseason. There have been missed tackles, sloppy coverage and poor pursuit angles.

In three possessions against starting offenses this preseason, the Ravens have allowed two long drives that resulted in 10 points.

Part of the Ravens' problems have come from experimenting. Pees is calling some plays to see if defenders can hold up in certain situations.

Last week in Dallas, the Ravens blitzed safety Darian Stewart, which left cornerback Dominique Franks in one-on-one coverage with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. The Ravens watched Stewart get blocked and Bryant leapt high for a 31-yard touchdown catch.

Pees plans to continue to feel out what his players can and can't do in Saturday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins.

"I told [the media] last week that I’m going to call stuff -- I’m going to do it this game, too -- to see where we are in certain situations. That’s what [preseason] is all about," Pees said. "It’s not to prep so much for Washington -- it’s to prep us for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland."

What aggravated Pees the most was big plays, especially in the run game. Stopping the run has long been a source of pride for the Ravens. Last season, the Ravens gave up five runs longer than 20 yards, tied for the fewest in the NFL.

Against Dallas, the Ravens did well for the most part, holding the Cowboys to two yards or less on 15 runs.

"Unfortunately, there’s an asterisk to that, though, because there were four plays for over 10 yards, which you can’t have," Pees said. "We just have to eliminate that, and they’re easily eliminated. We just have to do it. But I really feel like we can be as good as we want to be."