Carroll County Times

Ravens going up against tough defense

OWINGS MILLS - Rex Ryan is still Rex Ryan, one of the best defensive minds in football and an aggressive, creative, defensive-minded coach who prides himself on stopping the run and creating havoc with his pass rush.
That's how Ryan was during his time as defensive coordinator with the Ravens. That's how he is as the coach and defensive play caller for the New York Jets.
And Baltimore is going to have to overcome that Ryan-led Jets defense if it is going to win Sunday and keep itself in contention for making the playoffs.
"They're big, they're physical, and they hit and run with the best of them," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "Then also from a schematic standpoint, they give you a number of challenges, too, because they're very, very multiple [with personnel]. Oftentimes, you have to prepare for one or two fronts with different teams, but they give you a lot of different looks.
"As you know, Rex has done [that] over the years. They compound issues. They present problems for you, but their personnel presents problems for you from a schematic standpoint."
It's similar to what Baltimore's defenses were when Ryan was defensive coordinator from 2005 through 2008.
The strength of the Ravens' defenses under Ryan was their front seven. Baltimore did have Ed Reed in the secondary, but the defenses were built around the front seven.
It's no different with the Jets.
With the Ravens, Ryan had front seven players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Bart Scott, Trevor Pryce and Jarret Johnson.
And Baltimore ranked no worse than sixth in total defense during Ryan's four seasons as defensive coordinator.
The Ravens also ranked third-best in the NFL against the run in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
New York has had problems stopping the pass this year, but it has by far the best run defense in the league.
The Jets are allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. No other team is allowing fewer than 3.4.
"It's always going to be a challenge with the Jets," running back Ray Rice said. "Rex Ryan is well respected. I was here with Rex, and what they've built up there is similar to what we're used to seeing. They've got a Cleveland, Pittsburgh, that kind of front."
Ryan doesn't have a Lewis in the middle, but David Harris has been a productive player for several years, and New York has arguably the best defensive line among teams with 3-4 fronts.
Muhammad Wilkerson is having a Pro Bowl-type year at defensive end. He has 40 tackles, leads the Jets with eight sacks and has two forced fumbles. Nose tackle Damon Harrison and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson have also both graded out among the best 3-4 defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.
"When you look at them, they're just big, powerful guys," Rice said. "[But] they're not just big and powerful. They can move. So that's what presents a challenge."
The Jets are tied for just 14th in the league sacks, and they are just 23rd in pass defense, but that run defense in particular will present a challenge for a Ravens offense that is averaging the second-fewest yards in the NFL (3.0).
And Ryan is still Ryan as far as challenging offensive lines with pressure and exotic blitz packages, whether that's apparent through the sack numbers or not.
"We face a pretty good blitz package every single day," coach John Harbaugh. "We go against our blitz package, so it's similar in a lot of ways. [But] Rex is unique."
NOTE: The Ravens did not activate tight end Dennis Pitta from injured reserve prior to Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline to so, meaning that Pitta is not eligible to play today against the Jets.
Harbaugh and Pitta had both left open the possibility on Friday that Pitta may be activated for this game after returning to practice this week. Baltimore has two more weeks to activate Pitta or it will be forced to leave Pitta on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.