The Ravens have been unkind to opposing running backs this season.
The Ravens have allowed an average of 76.6 yards per game thus far, which ranks third in the league. Only the Dallas Cowboys (69.6) and the San Francisco 49ers (74.7) have been tougher against the run.
“We play completely as a unit,” 12-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis said Thursday. “We have a certain way that we play defense to where wherever the play breaks down, we don’t believe in being blocked one-on-one. We believe in hitting your block, get off the doggone block, and go make a play. If one guy’s on the tackle, make sure five, six, seven, eight, nine guys are on the tackle. That’s one big thing that with any good defense you’re going to see, a heck of a pursuit, and that’s something that we do very well. We pursue to the ball. So I think that’s why it’s very hard.”
The Ravens get a test on Monday night when they travel to Jacksonville and meet the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew is the league’s third-leading rusher with 572 yards, and he is tied for second with 17 runs of 10 yards or more.
Jones-Drew has been especially invaluable for a Jacksonville offense starting rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Jones-Drew ranks second in the NFL with 118 carries and fifth with 127 touches.
But recent history suggests that Jones-Drew may have a rough time against the Ravens, who have limited four running backs who ranked in the top 8 in the NFL last season to less than 54 yards. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall (45 yards), the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson (53), the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson (23) and the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster (49) all suffered below-average outings.
One person familiar with the Ravens run defense is Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who was the linebackers coach when the franchise won its first and only Super Bowl in 2000.
Del Rio said two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and nose tackle Terrence Cody make it difficult for blockers to get to Lewis, the NFL’s active career leader in tackles with 2,533. Del Rio also said that defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and his schemes have re-energized that unit.
“It’s a combination,” Del Rio said during a conference call with Baltimore media on Thursday. “It’s always a combination of good coaching, good schemes, good players. And when they go hand-in-hand, you’ve got something special.
Despite the Ravens’ success against the run, coach John Harbaugh said he fully expects a healthy dose of Jones-Drew and backup Deji Karim.
“You have to be determined to stop the run every week because a running team like this is not just going to stop running the ball,” Harbaugh said. “They’re not going to come out of the gates one-dimensional. You have to make them one-dimensional. So for us, we focus on making them one-dimensional and see what their next answer is.”