Ravens' front seven maturing to lead league's top rushing, overall defense

There are a lot of reasons for the Ravens' defensive success, but the key one is maturity, especially in the front seven.

Most of those top players are in their third or fourth seasons, and that's when improvement is the greatest among NFL players.


That's not to say they don't get better in future years, but that's the time when there is the most growth.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, the key component in stopping the opponent's running game, is in his fourth season and end Timmy Jernigan, the best pass rusher, is in his third. Inside linebackers Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley are both in their third seasons. Orr, who started strongly in the preseason last year but struggled as the regular season began, leads the Ravens in tackles with 77 and Mosley is third with 40.

One of the bright things about this defensive front is that the Ravens have gotten big contributions from rookie tackle Michael Pierce, who has 19 tackles including two sacks.

Another key to the defensive front's success is the drafting of general manager Ozzie Newsome. While he has struggled selecting skilled players on the offensive side of the ball, Newsome has gone after big, agile run-stoppers ever since the team's first year in Baltimore.

Around the halfway point of that 1996 season, Newsome proclaimed he was going to have a "big, old butt" run-stopper in the middle from then on out.

The Ravens are allowing 71.3 rushing yards per game, fewest in the NFL. They also have the No. 1-ranked defense as far as total yards, allowing an average of 281.6.

"They work great together," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Brandon Williams is relatively young in the league. What is it, his third year or his fourth year? He's pretty young, yet he's kind of the leader of that group inside. Timmy Jernigan is just playing at a high level – high-intensity level, big motor. Then, for Michael Pierce to be able to get in there with those two guys, to be able to learn from those guys but also see how it's done up close and personal from two young guys, to me, that's pretty awesome. Those guys, all three of them, have played really well."