I dont know about you but when I think Baltimore Ravens I think hard hitting defensive football. Strangely, it has been the Baltimore offense and QB Joe Flacco who have carried the Ravens this season. The Baltimore D finally showed some signs of life this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, but if our offense can play up to its ability, there is an opportunity for the Cowboys to reverse the trend that they have shown against the next team up on the schedule. Sure, it is a big question to ask if they will do so, but the opportunity is there. Let's take a look at what has changed.
First of all, the Ravens enter the season with a new defensive coordinator. Former DC Chuck Pagano has departed to become the head man with the Indianapolis Colts. His place has been taken by former linebackers coach Dan Pees. Pees is in his third season as an NFL coach, after a long college coaching career, and his first as a coordinator at this level. So far his team has not played up to the level that Raven fans have come to expect. It is important to note, however; that does mean that all the blame should fall on the coach. He has faced several challanges in implementing his defense.
The biggest challange facing Baltimore's defense is the issue with a change in personnel. The Ravens lost defensive player of the year Terrell Suggsto an offseason Achilles tendon tear. Reports have surfaced that Suggs says he will return by week 7, but this is unlikely and irregardless, as far as Dallas is concerned, it does not matter if he does or not. There is no way to replace the 70 tackles and 14 sacks that Suggs provided last year. Unfortunately for they Ravens they have to try. Career situational pass rusher Paul Krugerwill see the majority of Sugg's snaps. Although he is a pretty good rusher, he is no Terrell Suggs and he leaves a lot to be desired as a run stopper. Also hurting the Raven defense is the loss of DE Cory Redding, who was not only another run stopped, but a locker room leader for the defense. The Ravens are attempting to replace his production with a rotation of Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones. At OLB the Ravens have replaced departed free agent Jarret Johnson with rookie 2nd round draft pick Courtney Upshawand UDFA Albert McClellan. Long term this will be an upgrade for them, as Upshaw develops into the player he is expected to be, but like most rookies Upshaw faces a steep learning curve as he adapts to the game at the highest level.
Another issue the Ravens face is that their leader on the field is 37 year old Ray Lewis. Although he is clearly the emotional heart of the team, Lewis is dealing with the effect of the one person who has the testicular fortitude to tell him it is time to get off the field: Father Time. The athletism that used to help Ray Lewis be the dominate defender in the NFL has abandoned him. He is now such a liability to the Ravens in coverage that several Raven's blog sites have started to call for the UDFA McClellan among others to replace Lewis in short yardage passing situations. Lewis has also reached the point were he is not facing double teams; it is no longer necessary. He has issues shedding a single blocker. This frees up a blocker to help with the Ravens talented NT Haloti Ngata.
Of course, in the secondary the Ravens still have Ed Reed, but he too is aging. Reed at 33 is still one of the best to play the game and he is surrounded by a trio of excellent corners. The issue there has been the corners playing off their man and allowing the opposing QB to pick up large chunks of yardage while taking Reed out of the play. You still dont want to throw the ball into his neighborhood unless you want to throw a pick but by working the corners, it is possible to force Reed to stay deep as insurance against the long play. In short Cowboy fans will recognize the way the Raven corners have played this season as being what we saw out of Terrence Newman last season. OK, they are not that bad but you get a picture of what has hurt Baltimore this year. They are vulnerable to both the run and pass. Just ask Michael Vick. He and the Eagles put a ton of yardage up on this D, as did Andy Dalton's Bengals. Being forced to backstop the corners has kept Ed Reed deep and in the middle of the field this season. Not only has it opened up passing lanes, it has limited his run support effectiveness as well. This bodes well if the Boys get their offense on track early.
Looking over the Ravens so far this year they are not the defense they were last year due to personnel losses, If the Dallas Cowboys are willing to commit to running the ball and the OL and Vickers get their blocks it could be a big night for DeMarco Murray. For Tony Romo it could also turn into a sweet day passing. With Lewis struggling in coverage the Eagles exploited the middle with Celek. Jason Witten's return to form will allow us to do the same. In addition, the corners playing off WRs will give Miles and Dez an opportunity to dish out some of what was done to Terrence Newman last year. We all know what Bryant is capable of once he has the ball in his hands. If the Boys line executes their blocks and the team cures its case of dropsies Jason Garrett's offense has the opportunity to get itself on track in Baltimore.