The Schmuck Stops Here Peter Schmuck's musings on the local and national sports scene

Ravens defense off to strong start, but it might have to be Y2K good

Maybe it will end up being just a grand delusion, but since the start of offseason workouts the Ravens have been describing this year’s retooled defensive unit in heraldic terms that bring up memories of their two Super Bowl teams.

The first preseason game on Thursday night did nothing to quell that enthusiasm or the notion that this could be a “historic” defense, though everyone knows better than to draw any sweeping conclusions from one half of a glorified full-pad scrimmage.

Ozzie Newsome and his front office staff signed some high-quality veterans and drafted well – it appears – so the pieces are in place. The next step is to see how they fit together, which is one of the reasons why the first preseason performance was so encouraging.

The Ravens absolutely dominated the Redskins first-string offense early in the game and showed the kind of in-your-face aggressiveness that will be necessary to uphold and build on the franchise’s defensive tradition.

The outcome of the 2017 season could depend on it, because there is a chance that the offense may have to channel the Ravens’ first Super Bowl team to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

If you recall, the 2000 team had quarterback issues until Trent Dilfer took over and played caretaker while Ray Lewis and Co. stifled opposing offenses. The Ravens gave up 10 or fewer points in 15 of their 20 regular and postseason games that year, so the most important thing their offense had to do was avoid costly mistakes.

Hopefully, Joe Flacco will return from his back injury soon and all will be right with the world, but until further notice, Ryan Mallett is the starting quarterback and his performance on Thursday night wasn’t inspiring.

To be fair, Mallett wasn’t exactly playing with the first-team offense and it was just his first taste of real competition. He’s here because he’s one of the better No. 2 quarterbacks in the game and because of his physical and stylistic similarity to Flacco. But if the team was confident he could adequately replace Flacco for an extended period, it would not have risked alienating a chunk of its fan base by dallying with controversial unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Mallett completed 9 of 18 passes for 58 yards and a 57.2 QB rating in the first half of the preseason-opening victory over the Redskins, which was relatively meaningless considering the undermanned offensive line he was playing behind. And his first two passes of the game should have been caught.

What was meaningful was that he didn’t fumble the ball away or throw an interception. That’s what will matter most if he has to lead the Ravens into the regular season, provided the defense is anywhere close to being as good as advertised.

It certainly looked that way as the young defensive line harassed Redskins quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy and the cornerbacks confidently pressed the Washington receivers at the line of scrimmage.

No one is forgetting that the Ravens had the top-ranked defense in the league for much of last season, but when it was winning time they could not hold the lead in a handful of important games.

Newsome and his staff raised some eyebrows when they concentrated entirely on upgrading the defense with the top picks in the draft, especially after making safety Tony Jefferson and durable cornerback Brandon Carr their free-agent priorities.

They didn’t ignore the offense. They just decided to stick with a defensive emphasis that has held this franchise in very good stead over the past couple of decades.

That decision is looking very good in the wake of a string of OTA and training camp injuries that have created serious concern about the Ravens’ offensive potential.

Maybe that concern is overblown. Maybe Flacco shows up on the practice field in a week or two and the O-line comes together and the Ravens open the season on an offensive roll.

It would still be nice to know that the defense is so dominant that they don’t have to.

Let’s not get carried away. The defense isn’t going to be Y2K good, but on paper – and judging from the first 30 minutes of real competition on Thursday night – it appears to be good enough.

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

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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