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Ravens' 'transition game' something special

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Posted Oct. 08, 2011 @ 8:45 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Explosive plays and an opportunistic streak have marked the Ravens' 3-1 start, with the defense especially impressing in these regards.

The Ravens have scored four defensive TDs, three in a rout of the Jets. Overall, Baltimore has scored 51 points off of turnovers, whether on returns or resulting tallies by the offense. All told, 42.9 percent of the Ravens' 112 points have come off of its 14 takeaways.

It is one thing to consistently get stops. It is another to boast the "transition game" the Ravens have had this season. To wit: while the Steelers had allowed fewer yards than the Ravens through four games (277.0, compared to 284.5 for Baltimore), the Steelers had forced just one turnover, a fumble returned for a touchdown by SS Troy Polamalu. Overall, Pittsburgh scored just 64 points in the first four games. Set aside the club's points off of turnovers, however, and Baltimore had outscored Pittsburgh just 61-57 in that span.

The Ravens' primary defensive standouts — MLB Ray Lewis, DT Haloti Ngata, FS Ed Reed and OLB Terrell Suggs — are all playing at a high level. Ngata, who signed an a five-year contract extension in September that reportedly included $40 million guaranteed, might be in the midst of his best season. He has forced a pair of fumbles and recovered three fumbles. On each play — note that he forced and recovered a fumble on a thunderous hit on Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall in Week One — the Ravens' defense has scored a touchdown on the play or the offense has capitalized with a TD of its own on the resulting drive. (Ngata, for his part, returned a fumble for a touchdown in a 37-7 rout at St. Louis.) All told, Ngata has directly had a hand in four Ravens TDs — a little more than a quarter of their points — and that doesn't account for his disruptiveness otherwise.

The Ravens' defense hasn't played flawlessly. In Baltimore's lone loss of the season, Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck threw for 358 yards, and Tennessee held the ball for 35:52. How the Ravens fare against strong passing games does remain an issue to watch.

However, there's no question that this is a defense with uncommon playmaking — and game-changing — potential. That is reflected in the Ravens' point total.

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