Currently ranked third in total defense, the extent of Baltimore’s dominance is only fully understood when you consider how long it’s been going on: the Ravens have finished with a top-ten defense every year since 2003, and during that span they’ve led the league in takeaways while allowing the fewest points and the second fewest total yards.
Though statistics only say so much, Baltimore definitely has them in their favor, then, and even if they didn’t it still shouldn’t take more than one 60-minute contest to see these guys are really something special.
But are they still the best?
Instinct tells us they are, with or without the numbers to support it, and here’s a look at why:
The Ravens defense has so much experience you have to clarify just what kind of experience you’re talking about to even discuss it.
If you look at experience over time, they’ve got it in spades.
The core of the Ravens defense is their three strategically placed standouts – Haloti Ngata (NT), Ray Lewis (LB), and Ed Reed (S) – and together these All-Pros have 32 seasons of combined experience.
If you look at experience in terms of handling pressure, however, the Ravens have plenty of that too: Baltimore has played in nine Playoff games since 2003, and even though their record in those outings is just 4-5, they’ve survived past the Wild Card round in four of their five appearances during that span.
Why are the Ravens defenders still on top, then?
Well, for one thing, because they’ve been there before.
One of the many perks that come with maintaining a successful football team is your players get to know each other over time and, if you’re really lucky, they might even learn to feed off each other too.
The Ravens defense is a perfect example, and their ability to do so is most evident in the turnovers they consistently generate.
Ed Reed has been the biggest benefactor of the Ravens’ team synergy, as the pressure his teammates have applied to opposing quarterbacks have helped put him in position to snag 56 interceptions over his 10-year career, the most of any player since he debuted in 2002.
The Ravens know their strengths, they play to them accordingly, and this season, just like all the others, the entire unit plays better as a result.
We’ve already touched on it, but it does bear explicitly stating that the main reason the Ravens defense is so good is quite simple: they have several excellent players.
It’s not just that they’re veterans, nor that they play so well together. Those are just convenient little bonuses for a roster overflowing with proven defensive studs.
Put Lewis, Reed, or Ngata on any other team and they’d still be household names. Terrell Suggs (LB) is a four-time Pro-Bowler who could start for any defense, and recent additions Terrence Cody (NT) and Lardarius Webb (CB) have already blossomed into solid contributors.
The Ravens have a lot invested in this defense (this year they’re starting four of their own former first-round picks, one second-rounder, and two third-rounders) and they’ve been reaping the rewards for years now.
They’re still reaping them this season.
The Ravens have been a stable organization for virtually their entire existence, and through the years their supply of revolutionary defensive minds has grown equally long and impressive.
Jets coach Rex Ryan is their most famous export, but three other current head coaches also rose to prominence by helping build this defense (Jack Del Rio, Marvin Lewis, and Mike Smith) and the current staff is nothing to scoff at either.
This year it’s led by Chuck Pagano, who may only be in his first season as the team’s defensive coordinator but has already established himself as one of the most accomplished assistants in football.
Pagano has been the team’s secondary coach since 2008, a season in which Baltimore led the league in interceptions, and before that he held the same post with the Browns, the Dolphins, and the Raiders, achieving with Oakland the league’s highest rated pass defense in 2006.
While it may still be some time before Pagano is viewed in the same light as his aforementioned predecessors, then, he’s definitely on his way and he’s definitely made strides in the right direction with this year’s squad – through nine games the Ravens are allowing the league's sixth fewest passing yards per game, the third fewest rushing yards, and the second fewest points.
Would you expect any less?
Finally, there's an intangible element the Ravens defense also brings to the table that proves it isn’t simply good, it’s downright scary.
They’re the most intimidating unit in the league, period.
And their track record against even the stiffest competition at this point is second to none.
Well, for one thing, they all see their gaudy numbers drop to more human-like levels whenever they play Baltimore: every single one of them has a career passer rating average below 80 against the Ravens, while their collective completion percentage drops by over 5% and their yards per game average slips by more than 12.
The only elite quarterback who outperforms his statistical averages against this D, in fact, is Peyton Manning (brother Eli plays especially bad against the Ravens, averaging in three career matchups just 90 yards per game, a completion rate of 41.5% and a dismal passer rating of only 32.6), and to further put that anomaly in perspective, Peyton is also the only one of them who performs worse against the Steelers defense (always Baltimore’s closest competition for the title of “NFL’s Best”) than he does against the Ravens.
If those guys struggle so noticeably against this defense, what chance does any quarterback have of defeating them, and if that doesn’t solidify them as still the best in the league, what on earth would?