Why the Ravens Defense is on the Verge of Returning to Dominant Form
The Baltimore Ravens have historically be known for defense. Ever since this franchise formed back in 1996, defense has been the first thing to come to mind when mentioning the Ravens. It’s a defense that has featured some of the greatest names to ever play. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa among other names. “Defense wins championships,” as they often say, and in this franchises young life defense has led Baltimore to two Super Bowl titles, perhaps more are to come in the near future. In 2001 this club’s defense went on to be one of the greatest defensive units the NFL had ever seen.
They were the greatest rushing defense of all-time, not once allowing an opposing running back to reach a buck in rushing yards. The defensive line man-handled the opposition, allowing a fierce linebacking unit spear-headed by Ray Lewis to flow freely to the football the majority of snaps. The secondary was just as good, one led by Rod Woodson, who in his final years was still playing at an elite level. I talked a few weeks ago about how this was the year that the offense would finally have to pay recompense. Make no mistake, while the offense must do their part and in all likelihood will, this team will continue to win football games based upon the collective effort of a solid defensive team. Keep in mind while this club’s record from this past season may mask it, this was still a good defense, it just so happened that the defense was daunted with the task of having to win games for the team due to the offense’s inability to be productive or score consistently.
This front has the potential to be the best all-around unit in the league. It is staggering. Ngata will as always receive blocking priority from other offenses but should continue to wreak havoc up the middle. Chris Canty is as good as they come, and should continue to have a successful tenure under Pees’ system. Timmy Jernigan was a dominant force at FSU, and with a little fine-tuning could shortly be playing at the same intensity. Youth is ever-present, and many of these names still have yet to be relatively known. The preseason will tell us if these kids are ready made for the NFL or not. This line above all should yet again be among the best when all is said and done.
The strength of this defense will again lie at the second level. Lewis, Ellerbee, and Kruger may be gone, but they have not by any means been replaced by average talent. Terrell Suggs remains and is still playing at an exceptional level. Elvis Dumervil was one of Baltimore’s best pickups last offseason and racked up 9.5 sacks during the course of the regular season, we should see similar numbers this season. Courtney Upshaw has been solid since he entered the leagues despite being a second string linebacker. Pernell McPhee and Albert McClellan will see field time, but as it has been recently, not much.
The middle linebacker corp gets me excited to see this Ravens defense. C.J. Mosley, winner of the Dick Butkus award, yet another Alabama linebacker the Ravens have snatched out of the Draft may be a sleeper for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has great instincts and can tackle as well as anyone. Daryl Smith is an 11-year veteran still producing a head of steam and Arthur Brown played tremendously in his rookie season; he will only continue to get better.
In the absence of one the all-time greats in Ed Reed, this is the part of the defense with the most to prove. The Ravens made a good decision by drafting Terrance Brooks from FSU, he will most likely take the free safety spot. Matt Elam had a good rookie outing and he will virtually without a doubt return to the staring lineup. Will Hill, given recent events, could sneak his way to the No. 1 safety spot but that ultimately remains to be seen.
The majority of the competition remains at the cornerback position. Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown are currently battling for the nickel spot and it will remain close until the Preseason is over. The two corners to cover the wideouts will be Jimmy Smith (who likely has the most to prove out of everyone else on this entire defense) and Lardarius Webb, who needs to boast a better performance than last year after only intercepting passes twice.
There is almost no doubt in my mind this will yet again be the strength of this team. Defense has been key to their success since they first formed eighteen years ago. This defense finished 13th overall last season, respectable all the same but not in the top ten that we are used to seeing them at. Dean Pees had success in New England, and he can have success in Baltimore with the men he is surrounded by. What will be the deciding factor in the end is this defense’s game-to-game consistency and toughness, and consistency should be the chief focus.