This is the second installment of a three-part series in which Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel examines the
The Ravens' defense was the team's best unit in 2011, ranking among the NFL's elite in sacks, scoring defense and yards allowed per game.
But you could argue that the defense has the most question marks entering this offseason.
Still, those issues and others shouldn't cloud a sparkling 2011 season by the Ravens' defense.
Pagano is gone, though, and a major storyline will be whether his replacement can replicate the chaos.
"You're going to see a fiery Dean Pees and you're going to see an aggressive defense, just like you've seen in the past," coach
Here are three tweaks the Ravens could consider to improve their defense in the 2012 season:
1. Start planning for life after Ray and Reed
The Ravens hope Reed will return for another title run alongside inside linebacker
"We have great players like [Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti] Ngataand Suggs that are their replacements," Ravens owner
The Ravens can't leave their positions vacant, though, so they should start transitioning now.
If they believe that McClain and
"It's hard to find an eventual successor for Ray Lewis as the leader of the unit. Those guys don't pop up often. And it's hard to bring in [a top free-agent linebacker] if Ray Lewis is still there," Ian Eagle of
The same goes for the safety position, which could experience significant turnover this offseason even if Reed returns.
The Pro Bowl free safety turns 34 in September, and if he plans to be playing then, he hasn't shared his plans with the Ravens yet. Reed's instincts and coverage skills rank among the NFL's best at his position but his tackling was scrutinized as he played injured again in 2011. It's time to draft a long-term fill-in for Reed because it's unclear how much longer he can be counted on.
2. Find a pass rusher to pair with Suggs
Suggs had his best seasonin 2011. He set a career high in sacks. His seven forced fumbles were a single-season team record. And his strong play against the run helped him win Defensive Player of the Year over other defenders with higher sack totals, including
But he had just one sack in the team's final five games, including the postseason. Opponents gave Suggs even more attention with double teams, and running backs and tight ends often chipped him on their way out. With teams scheming against Suggs and with Ngata not as dominant down the stretch, the Ravens had just four sacks in those games.
"What we like about both of those guys is that they show up in both the run and pass," Ravens general manager
Even if Johnson and Redding return in 2012, the Ravens should target a pass rusher in the draft.
They like young defensive tackle
"Getting someone opposite [Suggs], that would just be devastating," said
Finding that wingman for Suggs is one way to get the Ravens defense back to No. 1 in the NFL.
3. Make sure the swagger stays in Baltimore
Despite a change at defensive coordinator from
The Ravens nearly doubled their sack total from 2010 to 2011, which might have been the biggest coup in Pagano's year as coordinator. They were loose and confident, and played with an edge.
"They really thought they were able to just let it go and play the way they are comfortable playing," said Ritchie, who believes other teams didn't want to play against the Ravens' defense. "Now the problem lies in that their defensive coordinator is the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts."
Pees acknowledged two weeks ago that his personality differs from his predecessors', but the former
"These teams that have been successful over time in the NFL are the teams that have been able to pass along their philosophies," Eagle said. "We've seen it with the