While fans and media members continue to write off the Ravens’ “aging” defense to focus on the suddenly explosive passing attack, NFL teams still should be scared of Ray Lewis and Co.
You mean the group that entered Week Four ranked 27th in the league in total defense? The same defense that allowed rookie QB Brandon Weeden (he of the 62.2 passer rating entering Thursday) to drive 72 yards from his own 10-yard line in the final 1:05 in Baltimore and nearly tie the game?
Yes, that defense.
Sure, this “D” doesn’t exactly look like the vaunted squads of recent memory — the team has only one finish outside the top 10 in total defense since 1999 (22nd in 2002), and has been ranked in the top three in eight of the past 13 campaigns. They’re allowing a very uncharacteristic 390.3 yards per game this season and have let three quarterbacks throw for more than 300 yards, including a rookie who was playing the second road game of his career on Thursday night.
Still, any offense that underestimates this “D” in the coming weeks will be in for a rude awakening.
Part of the explanation for Baltimore’s defensive mediocrity is the explosive offenses it has faced, with both the Eagles and Patriots ranking in the league’s top 10 in total offense. Despite the difficult slate for the defense, the Ravens still have allowed the 10th fewest points per game in the NFL this season. They also have forced eight turnovers (tied for third in the NFL), including what turned out to be the game-winning score on a pick-six Thursday night.
But as Lewis told the NFL Network’s postgame panel Thursday night, stats aren’t everything for this squad.
“We’re about W’s,” Lewis said when asked about the supposedly declining Ravens “D.” “We don’t have the stats to be sitting at home (during the playoffs).”
Even more encouraging for the Ravens, is the fact that they have accomplished all this during a stretch of four games played in 18 days, including games against the Eagles and Browns after nighttime matchups on five and three days’ rest, respectively.
With a mini-bye coming up — they’ll get nine days of rest before they play next in Week Five — you shouldn’t expect many more sluggish defensive series in the second half of games.
The “D” also doesn’t seem worried about the team's evolving offense, which is running just 37.6 percent of the time — by far its lowest number since 2000.
“We’re trying to let [the offense] understand — go ahead and do what you’re going to do,” Lewis said. “We got you, so whatever you want to do on offense, go do it. We got you.”
With bona fide stars NT Haloti Ngata and CB Lardarius Webb in their prime, and developing talents like LB Paul Kruger, LB Courtney Upshaw and CB Jimmy Smith stepping into larger roles, the Ravens should be well-equipped to handle any strain of a less conservative offense, and that’s before reigning defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs returns the physically unable to perform list.
We don’t know when, but as head coach John Harbaugh said of Suggs after Thursday’s win, “He’s going to be back.”
When Suggs returns, the better-rested Ravens suddenly will be deep with talent at linebacker, and the presence of one of the league’s best players should make everyone’s job easier. Until then, do you really doubt that Ray Lewis will rally his squad to return amongst the league leaders?
“Every year we come back, at the end of the year, and we’re always in the dance, we’re always in the playoffs, “ Lewis said. “That’s the defense you want.”