De­fense rises to open­ing chal­lenge

Ravens hold Bills to fewest yards by an op­po­nent since ’11 in nar­row win

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - By Jeff Zre­biec jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec/sun

The Ravens’ plan for their de­fense was es­tab­lished early in the off­sea­son. The Ravens fin­ished last year with a top-10 de­fense sta­tis­ti­cally, so re­vamp­ing the unit wasn’t wholly nec­es­sary. But Ravens coach John Har­baugh and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dean Pees be­lieved a re­fo­cus­ing was in or­der.

The de­fense needed to get to the quar­ter­back and cre­ate turnovers more of­ten. That was ob­vi­ous. The de­fen­sive coaches also thought the de­fense needed to con­fuse op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs, as well as ha­rass them.

Aside from one drive, and one missed tackle on Buf­falo Bills quar­ter­back Ty­rod Tay­lor, the Ravens ex­e­cuted Pees’ game plan to per­fec­tion Sun­day. They held the Bills score­less for the game’s fi­nal 33 min­utes and with­out a first down for the en­tire fourth quar­ter. The de­fense got its re­ward as they watched quar­ter­back Joe Flacco kneel down and kill the fi­nal two min­utes of a 13-7 vic­tory over the Bills in front of an an­nounced 71,104 on a sunny and pleas­ant af­ter­noon at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

“It was scripted just how you en­vi­sioned it as a de­fen­sive player,” said safety Eric Wed­dle, who had four tack­les and a pass breakup in his Ravens’ de­but.

The sea­son-open­ing vic­tory fea­tured an elec­tric 66-yard scor­ing strike from Flacco to Mike Wallace, the emo­tional re­turn of Den­nis Pitta, the long-awaited de­but of Bre­shad Per­ri­man, and a clutch third-and-short con­ver­sion from Ter­rance West that al­lowed the Ravens to run out the clock.

How­ever, for mu­chof the game, the Ravens’ of­fense played as if it hadn’t been on the field to­gether much dur­ing the pre­sea­son and train­ing camp. Af­ter tak­ing a 10-0 lead at the 10:11 mark of the se­cond quar­ter when Flacco au­di­bled out of a run play and found Wallace matched up in the mid­dle of the field against safety Duke Wil­liams, the Ravens didn’t score again un­til Justin Tucker’s 37-yard field goal with less than six min­utes to go.

“I think we did a lot of good things, but some­times we find a way to make it tough on our­selves and­playgames­like this week, where you’re squeaking out wins and fans are at the edge of their seats at the end of games,” said Flacco, who com­pleted 23 of 34 passes for 258 yards and a touch­down, but was sacked four times. “It would be great to throw for180 yards in the­first half and­be­up­bythree­scores. Welet them hang around and had to win the game in the last cou­ple of min­utes.”

That was only pos­si­ble be­cause the Ravens’ de­fense re­peat­edly re­pelled the Bills. With for­mer de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rex Ryan on the Bills’ side­line and long-time star safety- Ravens cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright loses his hel­met af­ter trip­ping up Bills run­ning back LeSean McCoy in the third quar­ter. Wright made three of the Ravens’ eight tack­les for loss. turned-as­sis­tant de­fen­sive backs coach Ed Reed in Buf­falo’s coach­ing box, it was a fit­ting time for the Ravens de­fense to take over a game.

“It’s started feel­ing a lot like Raven foot­ball with peo­ple hav­ing fun out there,” de­fen­sive tackle Timmy Jerni­gan said.

The Bills gained just 160 yards, the fewest an op­po­nent has pro­duced against the Ravens since the 2011 New York Jets, also coached by Ryan, man­aged just 150. They had just 12 to­tal yards in the first and fourth quar­ters com­bined. Buf­falo might not have scored at all had Tay­lor not made an ath­letic play to get out of a sack at­tempt by Al­bert McClel­lan, spun away from Ter­rell Suggs and hit tight end Charles Clay for a 33-yard gain. LeSean McCoy ran in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line four plays later to cut the Ravens’ lead to 10-7. Oth­er­wise, Tay­lor, the for­mer Ravens backup who had 40 or more rush­ing yards in nine games last sea­son, com­pleted 15 of 22 passes for 111 yards and rushed five times for 11 yards. The Ravens sacked Tay­lor twice and made eight tack­les for losses, three by cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright.

“We flew around to the ball,” McClel­lan said. “There was a flock of Ravens out there to­day.”

The Bills’ fi­nal of­fen­sive play proved to be a mi­cro­cosm of their af­ter­noon. Buf­falo trailed by six with less than five min­utes to play and had a third-and-6 from its own 26-yard line. Tay­lor rolled out right and was try­ing to es­cape when Suggs took down his for­mer team­mate for a 12-yard loss.

“They came af­ter us,” Tay­lor said. “They showed us things we hadn’t seen be­fore, on third down es­pe­cially. They brought a lot of pres­sure and they were very ef­fec­tive.”

The Bills went 3-for-13 on third downs and their stars were mostly bot­tled up. Tay­lor was in­de­ci­sive all af­ter­noon. McCoy had 20 touches but amassed only 70 yards. Stand­out Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 41⁄ wide re­ceiver Sammy Watkins, shad­owed all af­ter­noon by cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith, had just four catches for 43 yards.

“It’s the first game, but I feel like it’s im­por­tant,” Smith said. “The ques­tion marks some­what have been an­swered a lit­tle bit in the first game.”

McCoy was one of sev­eral Bills who ac­knowl­edged the Ravens oc­ca­sion­ally did con­fuse them. The Ravens ro­tated a ton of de­fen­sive per­son­nel. Safeties Lar­dar­ius Webb and Wed­dle were used in­ter­change­ably, and de­fen­sive backs fre­quently came in on blitzes. Lineback­ers rushed the quar­ter­back one play, dropped back in cov­er­age the next.

“I think that’s a pretty darn good de­fense over there,” said Ryan, who is now 0-4 against his for­mer team.

Sev­eral Ravens worked hard to keep things in per­spec­tive. It was Week 1, af­ter all and the Bills aren’t an of­fen­sive jug­ger­naut. Nor are the Cleve­land Browns, the Ravens’ op­po­nent next week. But the early signs were en­cour­ag­ing, and they in­ter­rupted some neg­a­tive trends from last year.

The Ravens had hoped the ad­di­tion of Wed­dle and mov­ing Webb from cor­ner­back to safety would cut down­someof the big plays al­lowed. Not once did a Bills player get be­hind the de­fense. With de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dean Pees call­ing plays on the side­line rather than from the coach­ing box, Suggs back from his Achilles ten­don in­jury and Wed­dle as the “quar­ter­back” on the back end of the de­fense, the team hoped to im­prove its com­mu­ni­ca­tion. McClel­lan said the com­mu­ni­ca­tion was as good as it’s been since Reed and Ray Lewis were the lead­ers of the Su­per Bowl de­fense.

Af­ter sev­eral blown leads last year, the Ravens’ de­fense, the sec­ondary in par­tic­u­lar, was at its best in the fourth quar­ter.

“Our corners just played elite foot­ball out there,” coach John Har­baugh said. “If we can play like that in the back end, we’re go­ing to have a chance to win some games.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs sacks Bills quar­ter­back Ty­rod Tay­lor for a 12-yard loss on third down in the fourth quar­ter.

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