After giving up 338 total yards, 214 of those rushing yards, the Ravens’ defense is under nation-wide scrutiny.
Peter King and Don Banks, two writers from Sports Illustrated, have openly questioned Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis and his abilities as an effective run-stopper. King attributes the problems to Lewis losing weight to adjust to a pass-happy NFL. Banks asserted that the days of dominating Ravens’ run-defense is long gone.
Even though the Ravens sit at 4-1 and are atop the tough AFC North division, I do believe that fans should have some concerns and that the criticism is justified.
But some things should be taken into consideration when looking at this unit.
The Ravens’ defense has looked shaky, in terms of yardage allowed. The team is currently ranked 24th. Even though opposing offenses are able to move the ball, the Ravens’ do not allow many touchdowns. They hold the 7th ranked defense in points allowed.
It is obvious that the defense is not what it has been historically, but neither has the offense.
Joe Flacco has his offense playing good football and running back, Ray Rice, is proving to be an effective weapon at his disposal. This takes the pressure off of the defense and makes the team dangerous.
Going back to the defensive woes, the Ravens also lost many starters from a year ago. Outside linebacker, Jared Johnson went to the San Diego Chargers, defensive tackle Corey Redding went to the Indianapolis Colts and star outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, is out with an Achilles injury.
The Ravens are relying heavily on rookie linebacker, Courtney Upshaw and fourth-year player, Paul Kruger to take the place of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs. Both have had a strong season, Upshaw with 11 tackles and Kruger with 10. Regardless, the two still do not fill the roles the way the old veterans from last year did.
At times, the secondary also has a weak link in Carey Williams. Despite his one interception for a touchdown against a rookie Cleveland Browns’ quarterback, Williams has given up a lot of big plays through the air. The problem is that second-year corner, Jimmy Smith, sits behind Williams on the depth chart but he is just as inconsistent as the current starter.
On a bright note, the Ravens’ defense proved they could make adjustments at halftime. A prime example can be seen when looking at their most recent game against the Chiefs. In the first half, Kansas City running back, Jamaal Charles rushed for 125 yards — in the second half, only 15.
Finally, the criticisms about Ray Lewis should not be so cut-and-dry. Even when looking past his history-making career, Lewis still leads the team in tackles with 43, 36 of which are solo.
He is older. There is no doubting that. There is also no doubting that he gets beat sometimes. However, Lewis is still the most valuable member of that entire Ravens’ team and he comes up big in clutch situations. This could be seen in the Kansas City game, when Lewis was in on three consecutive plays late in the second-half that halted the Chiefs’ drive.
The return of Suggs is now imminent and, if he remains healthy, will take a lot of pressure of the Raven’s young pass rush. It will also help Lewis and other members of the defense because Suggs is a player that requires a lot of attention.
The most important thing to remember when talking about the Ravens’ defense is, while offenses may be able to move the ball at times, they have the most trouble in the last 20-yards before pay dirt. Baltimore is a proud unit, led by a proud veteran in Ray Lewis and they do not break too often.
Baltimore will host the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon and then travel to Houston to play the Texans.