There’s only one kind of defense that would make a professional player such as Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon refuse to go back into the game — one of the greatest in NFL history.
Ray Lewis stood out among the 2,739 pounds of offense-beware terror that made up the starting unit, earning Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors, but it was a combined effort that included Peter Boulware, Sam Adams, Chris McAlister and fellow Hall of Famer Rod Woodson.
The team allowed the fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) in a single NFL season and producing four shutouts. By midseason, the Ravens defense had forced every one of their opponents to abandon the run. The unit piled up 23 interceptions and 19 forced fumbles.
Enter outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who became a necessary fixture in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s unit by accumulating 12 sacks and winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. Ed Reed had seven of the Ravens’ 24 interceptions. Lewis had 161 tackles and 14 pass deflections, earning Defensive Player of the Year.
The Ravens allowed only 17.6 points a game, forced 21 fumbles and led the league in sacks (47).
The 2006 defense was a victim of right place, wrong time. In an AFC divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, Ed Reed picked off quarterback Peyton Manning twice and the Ravens lost anyway, 15-6.
But all season, the defense had the league on watch. Defensive end Trevor Pryce stockpiled 13 sacks, linebacker Adalius Thomas had 11 and Terrell Suggs contributed 9½ to the Ravens’ 60-sack total. The defense ranked first in total defense and points allowed per game, was second in sacks and sent six players to the Pro Bowl.
The 2011 Ravens defense bore shades of 2006 with the league’s third-best total defense, but no Super Bowl ring to match. Terrell Suggs was his dominant self yet again, piling up 14 sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles to become the Defensive Player of the Year. The defense sacked the San Francisco 49ers nine times in a 16-6 Week 12 win. This was Chuck Pagano’s only year as the team’s defensive coordinator. Lewis led the Ravens with 95 tackles.