Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun
October 7, 2012
There was no official news conference or a photo opportunity for the passing of the torch, but it is clear the Ravens, the rowdy bunch of renegades who were the last line of defense for the argument that defense wins championships, are relying more than ever on their offense to win football games. This sea change didn't happen overnight. The construction of this offense began back in 2008, when the Ravens chose quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice with their first two draft picks. Since then, they have slowly modernized the offense, assembling nimble linemen, explosive wide receivers, and a pair of athletic, pass-catching tight ends around them. At some point this offseason -- maybe due to the major injury to linebacker Terrell Suggs or to the advancing age of fellow defensive cornerstones Ray Lewis and Ed Reed -- coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron decided it was time for the Ravens to open up the offense and stop relying on the defense to prop them up. In the first four weeks of 2012, the Ravens recorded more total yards than they ever had in the first quarter of a season, but their defense also surrendered more yards than it ever had through the first four weeks.
On Sunday, though, this proud Ravens defense, one that seems to have grown tired of all the talk about its demise, showed that is still capable of carrying the Ravens to a victory when the offense has an off week. The Ravens recorded four turnovers -- though three were giveaways more than they were takeaways -- and kept the Kansas City Chiefs out of the end zone in a sloppy, but fast-paced 9-6 win in Kansas City. They weathered three drives in the red zone, including one where the Chiefs had 1st-and-goal from their 1-yard line, and held them to two short field goals by kicker Ryan Succop. But, while the Ravens defense did save the day for a Ravens offense that mustered just 298 total yards, that unit also did little to quiet preexisting concerns about it while adding another one back to the fix-it list.
The Chiefs, a bad football team that is still looking for its first lead of the season, had a simple game plan entering Sunday's game, and that was to ride running back Jamaal Charles until the wheels came off or until they fell so far behind the Ravens that they had to abandon the run. The latter never happened because the Ravens offense got off to another slow start, and that allowed to the Chiefs to run the ball 50 times for a whopping 214 rushing yards against a Ravens defense that had allowed just 2.7 yards per carry combined in their previous three games. Charles became the first player to run for more than 100 yards in the first half against the Ravens since James Allen of the Chicago Bears did it in October 1998. But the Ravens finally figured out a solution -- it helped that the Chiefs didn't really have a Plan B to give them other problems to solve -- and held Charles to 15 rushing yards in the second half by readjusting the pre-snap alignment of their front seven and putting their linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage to plug up running lanes. Still, the Chiefs, who entered the game with the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack, shredded the notion that the Ravens defense remains elite when it comes to stopping the run.
And we didn't see enough of Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who was replaced by Brady Quinn late in the fourth quarter after Ravens defense tackle Haloti Ngata knocked him out of the game, to draw any new conclusions about Baltimore's struggling pass defense. They held the Chiefs to 124 yards through the air -- and picked off a pair of Cassel's passes off deflections -- but the Chiefs only threw the ball 18 times. In those limited amount of snaps to pressure the quarterback, the Ravens didn't get a single sack. And overall, the Ravens allowed the Chiefs to move the chains with six conversions on third-down plays.
The defense once again bent, but it didn't break, which is why the Ravens were able to sneak out of Arrowhead Stadium with an ugly win. But I saw nothing that convinced me that they won't snap a few times later this season, especially with so many quality quarterbacks left to play. The good news is the offensive guys know they owe the defense one, and they are now more than capable of paying them back.