De­fense isn’t ‘great’ yet, but has po­ten­tial

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston

Nearly two weeks ago, the Dallas Cow­boys rolled the Ravens de­fense in a 27-17 vic­tory that re­ally wasn’t as close as the score in­di­cates. On Sun­day against Cincin­nati, the Ravens dom­i­nated as they held the Ben­gals to 64 rush­ing yards.

By Mon­day morn­ing, the talk­ing heads on sports ra­dio were show­er­ing praise on the unit, say­ing how great it had be­come.

So, what gives? Are the Ravens so good that coach John Har­baugh is be­ing asked to com­pare them to other strong de­fen­sive teams in fran­chise his­tory?

It’s time to put this de­fense into per­spec­tive. The Ravens are good, not great. They might be able to get to that level in a year or two, with some ad­di­tional play­ers, but it’s hard to get there these days be­cause so many rules fa­vor the of­fense.

But if they were great, they would have showed out in­stead of get­ting showed up against Dallas. They didn’t get beaten be­cause of scheme or one or two big plays; they were the re­cip­i­ents of a phys­i­cal beat­down in which Dallas scored on its last five pos­ses­sions.

The Ravens re­bounded with a strong per­for­mance against Cincin­nati, but the Ben­gals were miss­ing their two top pass catch­ers: wide re­ceiver A.J. Green and run­ning back Gio­vani Bernard.

Even Har­baugh con­cedes that all this great­ness talk is pre­ma­ture.

“I would like to think that this de­fense can be that cal­iber of de­fense,” Har­baugh said. “That’s what you work for and strive for, but when you’re in the mid­dle of it, it’s re­ally not what you think about, be­cause

that’s big-pic­ture stuff. What we’re try­ing to do is look at the de­tails in the end that will help us get to that point.

“We’re not there yet, I don’t think, to those de­fenses. I’m talk­ing about two de­fenses, maybe three, in the last15, 16 years. We can get there. It’s go­ing to come down to how well we cover peo­ple in the back end, how well we cage the quar­ter­backs — keep them in the pocket and get to them — also stop­ping the run.”

Never has Har­baugh been so on tar­get. The Ravens have al­ready achieved one of those ob­jec­tives. Few teams can run against them and they are ranked No. 1 in rush de­fense, al­low­ing only 74.9 yards a game.

The front seven might be the best in the NFL, paced by tack­les Bran­don Wil­liams and Michael Pierce and ends Lawrence Guy and Timmy Jerni­gan.

Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr are fast, and out­side lineback- er Ter­rell Suggs is still one of the best in the NFL at hold­ing the edge against the run. It’s ironic that dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons some crit­ics were call­ing for de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dean Pees to be fired. It was never re­ally about Pees. It was about the mat­u­ra­tion process. Wil­liams is in his fourth sea­son, while Orr, Jerni­gan and Mosley are third-year veterans. Pierce is a rookie.

The Ravens, though, still have prob­lems to over­come.

One is cov­er­ing re­ceivers. Safeties Eric Wed­dle and Lar­dar­ius Webb are good inside the box and help­ing sup­port the run, but slow in coverage. Nei­ther has the range to be a good cen­ter fielder in de­fend­ing the long ball.

The play at cor­ner­back hasn’t been spec­tac­u­lar, with or with­out of­ten-in­jured starter Jimmy Smith. Op­pos­ing teams should come in pre­pared to throw 35 to 40 times against the Ravens.

They don’t have a shut­down cor­ner­back. Their top cover guy, Smith, is de­cent, but cer­tainly wouldn’t force a good team to throw to the other side of the field. Rookie cor­ner­back Tavon Young is ag­gres­sive and learns fast, but not fast enough to know how to work of­fi­cials yet.

The Ravens are also still search­ing for a dom­i­nant pass rusher. Rookie out­side line­backer Matthew Judon could be that player, but he needs more pol­ish. Out­side line­backer Za’Dar­ius Smith has cooled off af­ter a good rookie sea­son, but he gets a re­prieve be­cause he is only in his sec­ond sea­son.

Great de­fenses bring pres­sure from their front four, and that al­lows them to drop seven into coverage. The Ravens have to blitz to get pres­sure. Suggs can still get af­ter the quar­ter­back, but he tends to dis­ap­pear dur­ing games against qual­ity op­po­nents. Elvis Dumervil is on the re­cov­ery trail with a foot in­jury, but it’s doubt­ful he can re­turn to his dom­i­nant form of two years ago.

The great Pitts­burgh Steel­ers de­fenses of the 1970s and the Chicago Bears de­fenses of the mid-1980s didn’t strug­gle with get­ting pres­sure on the quar­ter­back. The Ravens de­fense of 2000 could beat a team in so many ways, and teams such as the Seat­tle Sea­hawks and Den­ver Bron­cos have won re­cent ti­tles with dom­i­nant de­fenses.

But that’s still hard to do. The NFL wants pass-happy of­fenses, and it cod­dles quar­ter­backs. De­fen­sive backs aren’t nearly as ag­gres­sive as they were a decade ago in press coverage.

The Ravens have the be­gin­nings of some­thing spe­cial, and great de­fense has been a tra­di­tion in Bal­ti­more.

It could hap­pen again, but they aren’t there yet. Maybe in a year or two.

* Times for these games could change

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.