I’m a defensive guy. I played defense in my youth, and even at the Pop Warner level, there was something exhilarating about it. I quite preferred being the one you had to beat to win the game; it was a sense of pride and accomplishment, not to mention the fun of laying out unsuspecting receivers and backs.
Sure, the Eagles always (to this day) seem to have a great defense, but in the early 1990s, their combination of the trio of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons up front, Seth Joyner on the wing, and Eric Allen and Andre Waters patrolling the defensive backfield was just something I loved.
But as an Eagles fan, it might surprise you to find out that my favorite team of all time is actually about 100 miles south of the City of Brotherly Love.
Simple. It’s defense. It’s swagger. It’s the way they just dominated...well, everybody.
Offensively, the Ravens have always been best described as “challenged.” While they’re technically only 13 years old, this is a franchise that lists Kyle Boller as its all-time leading passer, and rookie Joe Flacco is in the top seven.
But even with an offensive guru in Brian Billick as their head coach, the 2000 Ravens, much like last year during their resurgence, knew their offensive strength and stuck with it. That strength? Smash-mouth running backed up by an adequate passing game run by a very good game manager.
In fact, “very good game manager” is almost a misnomer, because the 2000 Ravens didn’t even really have a No. 1 quarterback. Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks both started eight games.
But Dilfer was the more successful; even though he will never be confused for a Hall of Famer and never really lived up to his draft status, he knew how to manage a game, did his job well in that role, and had the arm to surprise at times. He was 7-1 as the starter, so he had the record to back it up.
The plan was pretty much to run Jamal Lewis down your throat, use Shannon Sharpe as your main offensive target in play-action sets, and occasionally air it out to keep opposing defenses honest. They didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver (Sharpe led the team with 810 yards, and top receiver Qadry Ismail had 655), but Lewis and backup Priest Holmes ran for over 1,900 yards and eight TDs, and the defense did the rest.
Oh, that defense. What can you say about them? They were stingy with points, pitching four shutouts and allowing 10 or less four more times. Outside of a shootout against Jacksonville in Week Two, they didn’t allow more than 23, which is the total they gave up combined in the playoffs.
Those shutouts weren’t just lucky games; they were dominant ones. In Week Four, they held the Bengals to 94 total yards of offense, with Cincy having as many turnovers as rushing yards: four. Their rush defense allowed 55 or fewer yards 10 times, which made their ball hawking secondary that much better.
The 2000 Ravens defense was a juggernaut, because each level complimented the next so well, starting with a monster line. Starting ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary combined for 17 sacks, while tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa were immovable objects in the running game. Adams also contributed a pair of sacks to the cause.
The linebackers were perhaps the toughest bunch, as they could do it all: rush the quarterback, stop the run, and play in coverage. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis cemented his legacy in that season, serving as a jack of all trades—three sacks, three fumble recoveries, two picks, and 107 tackles is quite the stat line.
Outside, Peter Boulware racked up seven sacks, while Jamie Sharper had 55 tackles and forced five fumbles.
If you even got to the secondary, it wasn’t a picnic out there either. Corners Chris McAlister and Duane Starks were both shutdown guys, combining for 10 picks and keeping opposing passers in check enough to allow the defense to finish second overall.
Strong safety Kim Herring added three picks, two forced fumbles, and a sack, and even though free safety Rod Woodson was at the end of his career, he still rattled his share of helmets en route to 67 tackles and four interceptions of his own.
See all the stat lines above? That’s what I truly loved. Every player was capable of doing everything; sacks came from the secondary, linemen were interception threats, and the linebackers were everywhere. They just meshed well as a unit, and their main focus was clear: Hit you as hard as they could and try to take the ball in the process.
And if they didn’t prove to you during the regular season that they had the swagger to win it all, the playoffs cemented their legacy. After a pair of convincing wins against Denver and Tennessee, they dominated a good Raiders team in Oakland to win the AFC Championship, holding them to 24 rushing yards and forcing five turnovers.
The coup de grace? Super Bowl XXV, where a 34-7 win over the New York Giants made them look more like midgets. Five more turnovers forced and a nearly perfectly balanced offense just ground the Giants down, and when the smoke cleared, the Ravens were champions of the world.
Since then, they’ve continued to be a top defense, but their template has been replicated for success. Pittsburgh has won two Super Bowls on the back of a capable offense and ridiculous defense, and Chicago made it to the big game with the same setup.
Testimonial? The system works if you’re good enough to execute it properly.
If you still own a copy of Madden 2001, whip it out and play a game as the Ravens and see for yourself how much fun they are to watch, even in animated form.