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3. The banged-up Ravens defense has a chance if they keep the heat turned up
The Ravens defense hasn't often resembled the suffocating unit that wreaked havoc under former coordinator Chuck Pagano last season, and that's only partially due to the fact that key players such as Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb, and Jameel McClain have been sent to injured reserve and others such as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bernard Pollard haven't had the same impact because of injuries. The Ravens have not been as aggressive under new coordinator Dean Pees. Some of that has to do with his philosophies. Some of that has to do with all those injuries. And some of it has to do with the fact that the Ravens, who have been gouged by both the run and the pass, haven't put opponents in enough third-and-long situations. That's why they haven't produced as many sacks and turnovers as last season.
But in Sunday's win, the Ravens got stops on first and second down then put Giants quarterback Eli Manning in their crosshairs on third down. No regular NFL starting quarterback had been sacked less than Manning entering the game, but the Ravens sacked him three times and knocked him to the ground on countless other plays. The good news for Manning was that he had plenty of time to dust himself off on the sidelines, as the Ravens possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes in the victory, in large part due to the fact that the Giants were just two-for-10 on third down.
Pees dusted off some nice blitz packages for this game, which was his best of the year. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe drilled Manning early on one third-down play, and even though he was called for encroachment as he shot through the center of the offensive line just before the ball was snapped, that hard hit set the tone for the defense. Pees blitzed inside linebackers and defensive backs in 3rd-and-long situations, confusing the Giants or simply outmanning them with overload blitzes. Safety James Ihedigbo got in Manning's face on a couple of plays, and rookie safety Omar Brown got his first NFL sack when New York's right tackle was forced to choose between blocking him or blocking cornerback Chykie Brown.
The Ravens defense should get a little healthier before the playoff starts, but it will still be a unit that is held together with bandages and medical tape. And they might not be in as many third-and-long situations as they were against the Giants. But for them to have a chance against quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the postseason, they will need to keep the heat turned up. It doesn¿t have to be Pagano's kind of chaos. But a little more aggression on defense might help them go a long way.
December 23, 2012