The Baltimore secondary was the biggest question mark entering the season for the Ravens defense. Safety Dwan Landry, who finished as the team’s second-leading tackler in three of the past four seasons, and cornerback Josh Wilson took off for greener pastures during the offseason.
Although no great loss, Fabian Washington did not return to the Ravens as well. The departure of the three left the Ravens scrambling to fill 16 years’ worth of NFL experience in just two weeks following the lockout, and a subsequent brief free agency.
With Ed Reed returning healthy, and the retirement talk on hold, for now, General Manager Ozzie Newsom never made any real attempt to keep Landry. Baltimore's front office stayed with their philosophy of not extending the contract, or re-signing the "other starting safety”, on the team.
Baltimore's answer was to sign the hard-hitting, and more Raven-like Bernard Pollard. The Ravens also used their first-round selection in this year’s April draft (26 overall), to draft a good, but troubled cornerback from Colorado, Jimmy Smith. Smith has yet to make any impact, as he has been hampered by an ankle injury, but he has started appearing in more and more packages.
However, Pollard is a different story and paying immediate dividends this season. He led the Ravens with seven tackles vs. the Steelers last week, and has 38 tackles with one sack this season. Each week you hear Pollards name being called as he breaks up a pass or makes a huge hit.
Pollard is always in the right place at the right time—his style of play is by far more conducive to Raven's football. Simply put, Pollard has played like a Raven this year, and has the fines to prove it.
After contemplating retirement following the 2009 season, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is as healthy as can be expected. The former Miami Hurricane, who is now in his tenth season, is playing at an All-Pro level again. He has 31 tackles, one sack and two interceptions this season.
Reed also has a career milestone and NFL record on the very near horizon. He needs just 20-interception return yards to break the NFL's all-time record held by Rod Woodson (1,483).
One casualty of the Ravens allowing 16-years’ worth of defensive backs to leave during the offseason was Dominique Foxworth and his surgically-repaired knee. With inexperience at the cornerback position, the former Terrapin rushed back from his ACL injury, which sidelined him for all of last season, and ended up back on the injured reserve list this season.
While Foxworth is missed, Lardarius Webb and Carey Williams have done fine jobs during their baptism by fire in the NFL. Williams’s coverage technique seems flawless at times. In fact, when Williams is on, it looks like pass interference on every play. But, after seeing the replay, you realize he was on his man like a cape.
Webb is learning how to play a more physical game and has demonstrated an overall improvement in tackling and cover techniques.
He finished with six tackles vs. the Steelers last week, and seems to have learned from his mistake in the playoffs last season. He's finally realized that speed alone will not produce a good cornerback.
In the NFL, it is not enough to simply run with a receiver.
The Ravens have depth, and as Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr–the one DB the ravens did re-sign this past offseason–fully recover from nursing injuries, the Ravens defense could simply become a total shut down unit at the right time of the season.
While the front seven are playing great, this unit is doing their part as well. Not every sack is a rush sack, and the Ravens secondary is a big reason why they are just one sack away from tying their sack total from all of last season.
Coverage sacks are underrated, and the Ravens have more than a few this season. Remember back in Week 1 when Roethlisberger was toppled four times?
Three of them were a result of great downfield coverage.
This unit ranks fourth in the NFL in stopping the pass. They have allowed just two 300-yards passers all season, and only two passing plays of 40 yards or more. The Ravens defense is where a quarterback's rating comes to die. They are third best in the NFL, holding opposing signal-callers to a paltry 67.8 rating.
Despite having just four interceptions as a secondary, and eight as a defense, this unit gets their hands on the ball a lot. This is a deep unit that has played exceptionally well. Watching games earlier in the year, you just kept waiting for the cracks to expose themselves.
It hasn't happened yet, and it won't going forward. This unit will help carry the Ravens to the AFC Championship game.
Ravens Secondary. A-