Lost amid most of the talk about the Ravens’ overhaul of their Super Bowl-winning defense is the fact that during the regular season, last year’s group was serviceable on its best days and extremely vulnerable on its worst.
Before keeping Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts out of the end zone in the wild-card round, before forcing three Peyton Manning turnovers in the divisional playoff matchup, before holding Tom Brady and the New England Patriots scoreless for the second half of the AFC championship game and before a late goal-line stand against the Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers secured a victory in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens defense ranked just 17th in the NFL during the regular season.
The 350.9 yards the Ravens allowed per game was the second highest total in franchise history, beating only the inaugural 1996 team, which allowed 368.1 yards per game and ranked 30thin the NFL. Against the run, long one of the team’s strengths, the Ravens surrendered a franchise-worst 122.8 yards per game. The 228.1 passing yards the Ravens allowed per contest was also the second highest total in franchise history.
Gone from that group are linebackers Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.
In are linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Arthur Brown, defensive linemen Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Brandon Williams and safeties Michael Huff and Matt Elam, along with the inevitable questions about whether the team’s current defense will be better than its former one.
“I would never compare it,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said yesterday. “I can tell you that after the 16th game of the season next year. It’s really always unfair to say ahead of time what the defense is going to be. We have to be better than we were last year. We were good in the playoffs – good enough – but we weren’t good enough during the season for us to be the kind of defense that we want to be. We have to be better than we were a year ago, I’ll put it that way. I don’t know whether we will be, but we need to be.”
Following the end of the second of three weeks of organized team activities, Pees seemed pleased with what he has seen so far. His current defense is certainly much younger as the four oldest members of last year’s defense – Lewis, reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, Reed and nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu – are no longer on the roster.
That’s expected to translate into the Ravens being a much quicker defense though that remains a work-in progress, according to Pees.
“Sometimes it looks faster in certain situations. Sometimes it looks a little slower, because if a guy doesn’t exactly know the defense real well, he might be a little hesitant, because he’s trying to think what he is supposed to be doing and sometimes that makes him look slower,” Pees said. “If it’s something that we have been doing here for the whole football school and football OTAs, if it’s something that they really know well, yes, it seems like it goes pretty fast. But there are also times when it looks pretty slow to me when guys don’t exactly know what to do.”
Pees reiterated that the team will miss all the players that it lost this offseason but he expects new standouts to emerge.
“Somebody will step up, somebody always does and they have to,” he said. “But on the other hand, guys are learning and coaches are coaching their rear ends off to get everybody on the same page. The other point of it is kind of as a coach, you take nothing for granted right now. As a coach, you really have to coach everything, because you are coaching new guys in that position. It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, I know Ray knows how to do this. I know [Jarret Johnson] knows how to do it. I don’t have to spend a lot of time telling them.’ Now, we do. We have to be a little more specific and a little bit more detailed as coaches.”