For the past decade as a member of the
Injuries have forced the Ravens to rely on standout special teams players as defensive starters, thrust normally little-used players into big roles and given guys who were either at home or on the practice squad just weeks ago opportunities to aid in the playoff push.
"I don't think I've ever had so many [players] out for long periods of time and all at the same time," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "It's been interesting."
Pees, who has been forced to juggle his personnel throughout his first season as Ravens defensive coordinator, clearly hasn't lost his sense of humor even in the midst of preparing for Manning and Denver's explosive offense. Asked Thursday who will wear the headset in his helmet and relay the play calls to the rest of the defense, Pees grinned and said, "Next question," before breaking out into laughter. "No,
Bynes, signed as an undrafted free agent last year, has never started a game in his
"I've been here for four years and it's never been this bad," said linebacker
The Ravens' defense ranks 24th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (375.9). It ranks 25th against the run (129.3 yards per game) and 23rd against the pass (246.6). Coach
There have been instances of poor tackling, lapses in communication and ill-timed breakdowns. The pass rush has been inconsistent and the coverage, at times, has been poor. But some of those issues might be partially explained by the number of Ravens defensive players in the training room during the week rather than on the practice field.
"It's been tough," Harbaugh said. "It's as many injuries as we've probably ever had on defense here in the last five years, and I'm really proud of the guys. The guys have stepped up."
Only four defensive players — McClain and defensive backs
"It's always tough when guys get hurt, but this is the NFL," said Reed, who has played much of the season with a labrum tear in his shoulder. "Guys get paid to be professionals, so you expect that guys will come in and do a good job. It's tough because your communication and everything has to change a little bit more. It puts more on guys like myself, which comes with the territory."
Longtime teammates Lewis and Suggs have each missed seven games this season and still have yet to be on the field at the same time. The Ravens' top cornerback,
Given more opportunity, Kruger and defensive end
Two weeks ago, the Ravens let journeyman third-string quarterback
On Cousins' 11-yard touchdown pass to
"There's a lot of talk about the backup quarterback thing. It isn't so much those guys, it's us," Pees said.
"It had nothing to do with Batch or with Kirk Cousins. Any college quarterback could have thrown Kirk Cousins' touchdown pass. It's us executing the defense, and it was no rare defense. The injury factor had no bearing on that play. I know it may have been a new guy, but we still have to make that play. We can't use that as an excuse going forward."
Still, after watching Batch and Cousins deny them wins, it's fair to wonder how the Ravens will be able to slow Manning today, and then his younger brother, Eli, next weekend when the
The Broncos are second in the league in points per game (28.8) and Peyton Manning, after missing last season with a career-threatening neck injury, is second in the league in touchdown passes (30) and completion rate (68.3). His teams have beaten the Ravens in eight straight matchups dating to the 2002 season, but neither that — nor the rash of injuries the Ravens are dealing with — mean anything to the veteran quarterback.
"Every team deals with injuries. It's just the 'Next man up' mentality. I know Baltimore has that, and I know we've had that here," Manning said. "Ray Lewis is a guy that we all know is hard to replace, but you've seen it in Baltimore in years past. They have always had young talent and guys ready to step in. They are still very aggressive on defense no matter who's in there."
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel contributed to this article.