Going into this week to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Baltimore Ravens have to be confident with not only their chances to win but also in the team that they have. The Ravens have had their share of problems, but they have easily been one of the top teams in the AFC so far this season.
In a league that is dominated by teams with high-powered passing attacks, the Ravens stand out. More teams are focusing on offense in the draft and free agency and are neglecting their defenses. It’s not a terrible strategy since the NFL rules now favor offenses more than ever, but the Ravens have been fighting the trend by continuing to win with their defense. The quality of the Ravens’ defense cannot be understated and is really a testament to the Ravens’ excellent scouting department led by general manager Ozzie Newsome. The personnel that the Ravens have put together is second to none in the NFL right now.
It’s easy to look at all the big names and the defensive performances this season and see that the Ravens’ defensive personnel are clearly some of the best in the league, but it takes closer observation to see the true strength of their system.
The Ravens defense starts with All Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and All Pro safety Ed Reed. These two players are the leaders of the defense. Even though their physical abilities are not what they were in their prime, they are still two of the best players at their respective positions in the league and the heart-beat of the Ravens’ defense.
After Lewis and Reed, the Ravens’ have All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who just signed to a new long-term contract, and All-Pro outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs and Ngata are the young super-stars on the defense and are easily two of the most talented players on the team. They have shown the ability to dominate this season and have been playing off each other to wreak havoc on offensive lines around the league.
Lewis, Reed, Ngata and Suggs are the players that everyone around the league knows. They are the backbone of the defense, but the hidden strength of the Ravens’ defense is their supporting cast. The Ravens have a whole team of starters on defense as most of their rotational players and backups could start for most other teams in the NFL. Nose tackle Terrence Cody is just now coming into his own in his second season in the NFL and his first as a starter. Cody is a perfect example of how the Ravens defense is constantly restocking with quality players and young talent.
Last season, Cody started out of shape as a rookie but showed great potential. The Ravens drafted Cody because of that potential and slowly started to work him into the lineup as the season progressed. By the time the Ravens reached the playoffs, Cody was playing more and taking time from starting nose tackle Kelly Gregg.
It was Cody’s performance at the end of the season and in the playoffs that gave the Ravens enough confidence to release Gregg during the offseason. However, it was the opportunity to learn and play next to Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis that propelled Cody into the starting role.
That’s the best way to introduce young players to the NFL. Cody was given the opportunity to play, but there was never too much responsibility placed on his shoulders. He was allowed to grow in his talent and in his role.
Cody is not the only example of that strategy. The Ravens have done the same thing with almost all of their players on the defense, and that’s one of the biggest secrets to their success.
People have been talking about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aging for years, and the Ravens simply plan of filling their shoes with Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. They can never replace Lewis or Reed, but they can have players ready to step up for them and slowly make that transition. The Ravens never stop building and have already started filling in the defense behind Ngata and Suggs with young talent like Cody and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
Needless to say, the Ravens defense is the strength of the team and gives them a huge edge in the AFC. They are clearly the best defense in the league right now, and not only are they the best defense but they are also one of the only difference-making defenses.
Not many teams can create the turnovers and pressure that the Ravens are capable of, and combined with a surprisingly effective and balanced scheme by new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, there is not a team in the league that can win with their defense like the Ravens are capable of doing.
The Ravens will continue to be able to negate the offensive strength of most teams that they face, and considering that most of the playoff contenders this season are offensive teams, that is a huge edge that should help them to go far this season.