Time for the Ravens to give this team back to the defense

Daryl Smith

Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith returns an interception for a touchdown against the Houston Texans in September. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / September 22, 2013)

The Ravens need to go old school this weekend and for the rest of the season.

Forget about the offense. They have waited long enough for quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and this horde of receivers to find an identity.

They already have one: inept.

So like they have done for much of the last decade, the defensive players need to huddle and determine that they have to carry this team if they want to get into the playoffs.

And every game from here on out, they have to come out like a bunch of crazed dogs. And they have to knock the spit out of people, gamble, create turnovers and make big plays in crunch time.

Make no mistake about it, that's the way New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will have his team playing Sunday. The Jets want to brawl and chirp.

They will be surly like Ryan.

"We're a physical football team, and we can make plays with finesse [too]," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You do all those things, and they do the same thing. We've got to do the things we need to do to win the game. We need to focus on how we play. Any extracurricular stuff, we haven't been involved in that stuff all year. It will be a tough, hard-fought football game — no question. We respect them. They know how to play the game, and it will be a heck of a battle."

One of the final ingredients for the Ravens' defense is playing with swagger. They've played well enough to win and they are playing with more consistency, but not to the point where they dominate games and force a lot of turnovers.

In the four games the Ravens have won, their pass rush was overwhelming registering six sacks against the Miami Dolphins, three versus the Houston Texans and five in the first game against the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens had three interceptions in a 20-17 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

But in 10 games, the Ravens have only seven interceptions and have recovered three of 10 forced fumbles. Combined with an inept offense, they have earned their 4-6 record.

"The main thing is we have to do that better — big plays on offense, the same as turnovers on defense," Harbaugh said. "We've gotten the sacks. We've had a number of negative play runs that we've created, but the turnovers are very important. And that's something, as we go down the stretch here, that we need to do well."

The Ravens will get that opportunity against New York. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith is a turnover waiting to happen. He has completed 166-of-295 passes for 2,100 yards and eight touchdowns, but thrown 16 interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 65.1

The Jets have the 29th ranked passing attack in the NFL, so if the Ravens crowd the line of scrimmage and take away running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, then Smith has to beat them.

He can't.

"[He is] definitely a playmaker," Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith said. "He has the ability to run around and make plays with his legs, and he can definitely make some good throws, too. So, if you've got a guy like that, we've got to definitely keep him in the pocket, try to stop the run and try to make them one dimensional — just try to put it all on him to beat us. We've just got to keep focused and just know where everybody is, especially him."

The game plan is basic, but the Ravens have to work on their mental approach. This defense is starting to become good, but they don't have that confidence, that swagger yet.

They need to get it, and start playing complete games. Back in the championship 2000 season, the Ravens were so cocky that they believed if they got a seven-point lead, they would win. If the offense didn't score before the half, guys like linebackers Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper and end Michael McCrary took it upon themselves to make a play and win the game.

With this offense, the Ravens need to take the same approach.

All week long we've been hearing about the Jets defense and that they are ranked No. 1 against the run led by linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

Former Ravens defensive tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams would have been offended and McCrary and fellow end Rob Burnett would have been clearly irritated.

They still have that kind of pride. Only a few months ago when asked if offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden or Lewis were the great players in team history, Burnett said: "Neither, I'm the best."

He wasn't joking.

On Wednesday former Raven Ed Reed, now with the Jets, proclaimed he was still one the best safeties in the game. Former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott would have been ranting in the locker room if anyone intimated the Jets had a better defense than the Ravens when he was here.

That's just the way they thought, the way they played the game.

That's the way the current Ravens have to think. They need to understand that Sunday's game is a personal challenge, but also know that if they don't carry this team and make some plays their goals won't be accomplished.

They need to reach back and grab a little history and some swagger. Sometimes, old school is better.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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