On the first day of training camp, Clarence Brooks, the Ravens defensive line coach, walked up to a whiteboard in the unit's meeting room and wrote two numbers — 27 and 48 — on the board.
After getting quizzical looks and no answers, Brooks told the players that the first number was the total amount of sacks the defense collected in 2010 — setting a new franchise low — and that the second number was the total amount that the Pittsburgh Steelers recorded, which ranked first in the NFL.
"The emphasis is getting that number higher," defensive end Cory Redding said Wednesday as the team settled into preparing for Sunday's game at Tennessee. "We know the type of men we have in this building and who can pass rush. We added [rookie defensive end Pernell] McPhee, [outside linebacker] Paul Kruger has stepped up big time in his development and understanding what's going on, and we have an angry man [outside linebacker Terrell Suggs] coming off the corner. Guys are really understanding the system and making every possible effort to get to the quarterback to get that number higher because we know we should be in the top five in any category with the defense we have playing."
The defense took a positive step toward that goal in Sunday's 35-7 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suggs sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times, and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and cornerback Lardarius Webb split another sack to help the Ravens tie for sixth in the league with four sacks.
The next test is Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a 13-year veteran who is blessed with a quick release. Hasselbeck said he was impressed by the Ravens' showing.
"It's a more aggressive style," he said during a conference call with Baltimore media. "That's evident and the numbers are there on that. I think you see that, and it worked great for them. It worked well for them. So we know that's what we've got to prepare for. We've got to prepare for those pressures, and I'm sure they'll mix it up like we will."
Sunday's display was a much improved performance from last season when the defense failed to collect more than three sacks in a regular-season contest.
Exit Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator who relied on three-man fronts and took a similar position at the University of Michigan, and enter Chuck Pagano, a players' coach who has vowed to be more aggressive and isn't afraid of enjoying the moment with his players.
Inside linebacker Ray Lewis credited Sunday's results to Pagano.
"I think Chuck is a little different in his approach of getting to the quarterback," Lewis said. "It's kind of an emphasis for our defense."
Coach John Harbaugh said it wasn't difficult to notice the difference in the team's pass rush.
"I saw more sacks," he said. "We had a lot of hits last year. I think the pass rush was very aggressive. I thought we did blitz a little bit more, and I was really happy about that. That's going to be a week-to-week kind of deal, but the guys are bringing it."
Sacks aren't the only priority, however. Johnson said sometimes applying enough pressure to make an opposing quarterback rush his reads and his throws is enough to disrupt an offense and win the battle of field position.
"The main objective is to disrupt the quarterback, his reads in the [defensive] backfield and force his mind to think fast because he knows that if he sits there and holds onto it, he's going to get hit," Johnson said. "Our main thing is to move him off of his spot and hit him. Sacks to me are just icing on the cake."
Generating heat on quarterbacks makes it easier for the secondary, which doesn't have to spend an inordinate amount of time covering receivers. Suggs, who parlayed his showing on Sunday into being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, said protecting the secondary is motivation for the Ravens' front seven.
"We're running blitzes, and we've got to execute," he said. "Otherwise, we hang out our secondary, and we don't want to do that. I think there's more attention to detail to get there. So we're just coming. We're just putting a little bit more on it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times