One thing the defense can take pride in this season is its play inside the red zone. In a season in which their vaunted defense and their venerable reputation have been shredded by opposing offenses, the Ravens haven't had much to hang their hats on defensively. Overall, they haven't tackled well, they haven't covered well, they have struggled to get off the field on third down, and their lack of a consistent pass rush has helped expose their many flaws (I could write about that one every week). Teams don't fear the Ravens defense like they used to, as we saw when the New England Patriots attacked their cornerbacks through the air and the Kansas City Chiefs ran the football 51 times against them. The Ravens, who imposed their will on opponents for more than a decade, are no longer dictating how offenses will proceed against them. But the Ravens have consistently delivered in the most important 20 yards on the football field -- inside the red zone -- and totally redeemed themselves after allowing the other team to march down the field. On Sunday, linebacker Terrell Suggs promised the offense that if they could produce one more scoring drive, the defense would do its part by keeping the Cleveland Browns out of the end zone. And Suggs was a man of his word, as the Ravens held the Browns to five field goals after they crossed the Baltimore 20-yard line. The Browns threatened but they never get inside the 10-yard line, though to be fair, the Ravens caught a big break when an illegal formation penalty negated Josh Gordon's fourth-quarter touchdown catch and run. The Ravens entered the game ranked ninth in the league in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns 46.4 percent of the time, and they should rise after the Browns went 0-for-5 on Sunday. As poorly as the defense has played at times, that unit has bailed out the offense -- and themselves -- in both of the team's road wins this season. In the Week 5 win over the Chiefs, they bent but didn't buckle, and they allowed six total points in Kansas City's three trips inside the red zone. And in giving Browns kicker Phil Dawson a workout Sunday, they gave the offense a chance to mount a comeback. Maybe their play in the red zone will be a microcosm of their season -- a proud, wounded defense reaching its breaking point but refusing to give into the mounting pressure. Or maybe, if you don't feel like getting reflective, it's simply the defenders taking advantage of the close quarters inside the 20-yard line by stacking the box and applying enough pressure to keep their defensive backs from getting exposed. However you look at it, the Ravens defenders are at their best when their backs are against the imaginary wall that is the goal line. It has happened far too often this season, with the Ravens surrendering nearly 400 yards per game, but imagine where they would be if they were faltering inside the red zone there, too.
Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam
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