November 25, 2012
The Ravens defense has been a different unit since it limped into the bye week.
Before the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, I asked coach John Harbaugh about the Steelers defense and how the rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. That famous Mark Twain quote could probably apply to Harbaugh's defense as well. The Ravens don't resemble the smothering defensive juggernauts we have seen over the past 12 years, and I don't just say that because slimmed-down linebacker Ray Lewis is relegated to the sidelines with a triceps tear and because free safety Ed Reed is getting gray hairs, too, not just giving them to the Baltimore coaching staff. It has not helped that outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (pictured) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata have been dealing with their own injury issues. But while the Ravens defense won't be confused for the dominant units of the Chicago Bears or the San Francisco 49ers, it has steadily improved since the Week 7 loss in Houston.
After getting drubbed by the Houston Texans, 43-13, the Ravens were allowing 23 points per game. But in the past four games -- all of which were Ravens victories, including three on the road -- the Ravens allowed just 14.8 points per game, and that's not factoring in the scoreless 14 minutes of free football they played in Sunday's 16-13 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers. Dean Pees pledged to fix his defense during the bye week and his players vowed to take the heat off the first-year defensive coordinator. Together, the defense has righted itself, and it couldn't have come at a better time, as the offense struggled for long stretches against the Cleveland Browns, Steelers and Chargers. There is still room for improvement, but the Ravens aren't getting gouged by running backs anymore. Despite key injuries in the secondary, opposing quarterbacks have stopped torching them. They have the NFL's best red-zone defense. And the pass rush has started to come to life (their six sacks of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was a season-high, though to be fair, San Diego's offensive line is hot garbage).
The next five games will test the Ravens defense. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is trying to return for next weekend's showdown at M&T Bank Stadium. Then the Ravens have to chase after rookie sensation Robert Griffin III, followed by back-to-back games against Manning brothers, then the season finale in Cincinnati, where the Bengals are building something with quarterback Andy Dalton and star wide receiver A.J. Green. But while these challenges will no doubt be tougher, we said similar things about the Ravens having to deal with Rivers and Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, and they survived those. We now know that it was a little premature to write the eulogy for the Ravens defense.