It is often hard to fully buy into such a large amount of hype. All offseason we kept hearing about the potential for Baltimore’s defense to be among the best this season. And why not? The acquisitions of Tony Jefferson at strong safety and Brandon Carr at cornerback considerably bolstered a secondary that needed patching up. Brandon Williams, the premier defensive tackle for Baltimore, re-signed on a five-year deal worth $52.5 million. Brent Urban impressed mightily during the course of the preseason. Terrell Suggs is still capable of being an x-factor. CJ Mosley is one of the best young linebackers in the NFL and will only get better. Jimmy Smith has proven he has the capability of being a shutdown corner provided he can stay healthy. Marlon Humphrey has proven himself and to the Ravens that taking him at no. 16 overall has been a smart decision thus far. And, Eric Weddle is in the prime of his career. On paper, you would be inclined to think that we were in store for shades of the same Ravens defense from 2000 that carried Baltimore to its first Super Bowl title. Despite the fact that many of us have been around too long to know that expectations can fall disastrously at the drop of a hat in this league, the Ravens do not appear, at least for the time being, to be heading in that direction.
The Ravens opened their 2017 season against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, a place where they had not won since 2011. Whatever the reason, the Bengals have consistently been unintimidated by the Ravens for the better portion of the Marvin Lewis era. Many expected the Bengals to oust them once again, myself included. Not only did Baltimore win in Cincinnati for the first time in six years, they did so in punishing fashion. The rest of the league has been put on notice: You will earn every inch you get against this Ravens defense.
Baltimore was the only team who pitched a shutout this past Sunday. It was the first Week 1 shutout by any team since 2006. Although they were fourth in total yards allowed at 221, the key statistics here are perhaps the most important as it pertains to truly measuring the prowess of a defense: scoring and turnovers forced. They ranked first in both of those categories, giving up zero points (in case you needed a reminder) and forcing five turnovers. Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, CJ Mosley and Brandon Carr secured four Dalton interceptions while Terrell Suggs forced a fumble from inside the redzone. The defense wasn’t just consistently stingy against the Bengals on Sunday, they were frighteningly opportunistic.
Like it or not, the Ravens have always had a defensive identity. It’s in their DNA. It’s what won them their first title, and it’s what secured their second. It’s the very same meat and potatoes style of football that has earned them two Lombardi trophies. And it’s defense, if anything, that gives them a chance at capturing a third championship. How the Ravens end up finishing this season will be predominantly dependent upon how their defense fairs.
No matter how offensively-oriented this league has become over the years, it’s defense that trumps everything in the end. The best example is the Denver defense of 2015 that carried a Peyton Manning that was on his last leg to a Super Bowl victory. Cam Newton, the league’s MVP of that season, was tormented all game long by Von Miller and a smothering Broncos defensive unit.
Eric Weddle said in the beginning that this year’s defense was going to be a special one. Through one week, he seems to be a man of his word. There will be much tougher opponents over the course of Baltimore’s regular season, and the defense’s performance against more offensively talented squads will show how truly capable they are in their capacity to put this team on their backs. The offense will surely need to score in order for the Ravens to win, but Joe Flacco and company won’t have to put up huge numbers, just enough to support the defense. They made a case for that against Cincinnati. Again, it’s only one game. Needless to say, however, things look very promising early on.