Ravens secondary shows steady improvement after Week 1

Ravens veteran safety James Ihedigbo knows the reality.

With the offseason addition of Elvis Dumervil to pair with Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have one of the most feared pass-rushing tandems in the AFC. The signings of Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Daryl Smith has turned the Ravens' run defense from a weakness last year to a major strength this season.


But the secondary? That's where the questions about the Ravens' defense begin and end.

"We know that if we want to go anywhere — win a championship again, whatever we want to do with this team and with this defense — it starts with us," Ihedigbo said after the Ravens' 30-9 victory over the Houston Texans Sunday. "We have to continue to play at a high level."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has continually referred to his team as a work-in progress and no position group has shown more steady improvement over the past couple of weeks than the secondary.

Of course, there was nowhere to go but up after allowing Peyton Manning to throw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns passes in a 49-27 season-opening defeat to the Denver Broncos. However, in two victories since, the Ravens have allowed 421 yards passing and no touchdowns.

The 14-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 followed by Sunday's dominant win over the Texans, marked the first time since the first two games of the 2010 season where the Ravens held the opposition out of the end zone in back-to-back weeks.

"I just think those guys in the back end have worked so hard," Harbaugh said. "That was a big concern. That was a point of emphasis in this [Texans'] game – something that we talked to the guys about on Saturday – was being rock-solid back there in terms of how we played together and how we played technique. They did a great job of that. I'm really proud of the way the secondary played in this game."

Harbaugh said that the improved play of the secondary is "probably attributable" to a lot of factors, starting with a greater familiarity with one another. The current starting secondary — Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith at cornerback and Ihedigbo and rookie first-round pick Matt Elam at safety — is completely turned over from the group that started in Super Bowl XLVII in February.

Communication issues killed the Ravens defensive backs against the Broncos, but the additional practice time and game experience has seemingly helped the group eliminate some of those early problems.

"Each week, we're building our chemistry," Smith said. "We're gelling, knowing exactly how we're going to be playing, where we're going to be. I feel like it's a chemistry thing, just gelling together."

Smith, the third-year cornerback who was the Ravens' first round pick in 2011, joined the base defense as a starter over Corey Graham after Week 1, and he's played two of the better games of his career. In two weeks, Smith has nine tackles and four passes defended.

As part of the changes, Elam also replaced free agent signing Michael Huff, who struggled mightily in Week 1, at free safety and he's shown good discipline and quickness, and mostly been a sure-handed tackler.

Elam played just 13 of 71 defensive snaps in Denver but he played in all 63 versus Cleveland and in all 65 versus Houston. Huff, used in the dime package on Sunday, went from 61 snaps in Week 1 to four and 19 the past two weeks.

Graham, who admitted that he played one of the worst games of his life against Wes Welker and the Broncos, has seen his snaps go from 65 to 35 to 30. Ihedigbo, meanwhile, has yet to miss a defensive snap and he was all over the field against the Texans with nine tackles, including two for losses, and two passes defended.

"This is a play-action pass, throw-the-ball downfield outfit, where they made a bunch of big plays in the past. And we felt like holding them to minimal or no big plays was going to be really important for us [and] was going to be a tough job for our secondary," Harbaugh said. "Our secondary played with tremendous discipline — great eyes, great spacing and leverage in the back end. The [Texans] had no big plays downfield in the passing game so that was really important."


Against the Broncos, the Ravens allowed nine pass plays of 20 yards or more. In two games since, they've allowed only three and all of them came against the Browns. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub completed 25-of-35 passing attempts for 194 yards, but he didn't take too many shots downfield to his group of dangerous wide receivers.

Webb said the secondary owes a lot to the front seven which has consistently pressured the quarterback but there's no question that the Ravens' coverage on the back end has been much better.

"We feel good right now but there's a lot of improvement that we need to do," he said. "This is just a steppingstone. We're still on an uphill battle. We're still trying to get better."


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