Schmuck: Ravens' 'historic' defense needs to get it together before team is history

There is a common saying in the business world that advises against the folly of setting the bar too high and struggling to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

It’s much better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.

The Ravens defense obviously didn’t get the memo.

From the beginning of training camp, the team’s newly upgraded defensive unit was touted as potentially “historic” and that narrative certainly wasn’t tarnished by the Ravens’ season-opening shutout on the road against the rival Cincinnati Bengals or the 10 forced turnovers in their first two games.

What has happened since then has been tough to explain. But what is impossible to deny is that the preseason hype has made the team’s uneven defensive performance over the past five games look all the worse for the premature comparisons to some of the great Ravens defenses of the past. It also appears to have put added pressure on players to live up to the billing.

To be fair, the business of professional sports doesn’t lend itself to clever corporate clichés, since pro sports teams depend heavily on advance sales of tickets, suites and sponsorships. So every team tries to paint a promising picture of the upcoming season.

The Ravens had a right to expect dynamic defensive improvement after the front office signed some quality free agents and focused the front end of the draft on improving the team’s ability to defend against the pass. There definitely was reason to be optimistic after both the offense and defense had trouble finishing games last year.

But defensive coordinator Dean Pees was quick to caution against making lofty comparisons before this year’s defense was a finished product.

“I said this clear back in training camp the very first time I got up here and somebody asked me a question,” Pees said Tuesday. “You aren’t anything until you prove you are something. That is hype. How many guys have I seen in college that they go, ‘This guy is going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate?’ Let him be one first. Let him be.”

Pees isn’t willing to make the connection between that hype and some of the costly breakdowns that have happened over the past few weeks, but he said some of his players are pressing — trying to do too much in certain situations.

“We are all guilty of it,” he said. “We have to relax. We have to play. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of us.”

It’s also very possible that Pees and his defense have been pressing because they know the injury-ravaged offense isn’t in a position to carry its share of the load.

Terrell Suggs bristled at a question about the preseason expectations and took offense to the word “hype,” but said this week that there’s still time for this Ravens defense to achieve great things. Safety Eric Weddle agreed.

“I don’t think the pressure and talking about being great [matters],” Weddle said. “If you don’t talk about and you don’t speak about trying to be the best, how are you going to do it? Whether some guys know how to handle that … maybe. I’m an older guy, so I know how to handle the pressure and the good, the bad and everything that goes with it. We’re all right. We’ve got a long season left.”

It’s going to be a long winter if the Ravens don’t take advantage of some of the opportunities that have presented themselves during the first half of this season. They could not beat a Chicago Bears team with a highly inexperienced young quarterback. They were beaten soundly by a Minnesota Vikings team that also has quarterback problems. And on Thursday night, they’ll face their third straight opponent that will not feature its No. 1 quarterback.

Everyone knows that there won’t be much slack left if the Ravens lose to the Miami Dolphins at home on national television.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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