In a 5-minute span during the Ravens' season-opening 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, safety Ed Reed intercepted an errant pass from Andy Dalton and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
Ray Lewis sacked Dalton and forced a fumble that Lardarius Webb recovered. Haloti Ngata took down Dalton for a 13-yard loss and three plays later, Pernell McPhee and rookie Courtney Upshaw tripped up the second-year quarterback for a 12-yard loss.
There were certainly glimpses of the aggressive and feared defense that the Ravens long to be, but on a night where the offense did very little wrong en route to accumulating 430 total yards, their defensive effort would probably be best described as uneven.
"We didn't play perfectly as a defense, and there are people in different places, but we are working our kinks out just like everyone else is working their kinks out," said Lewis, who had 14 combined tackles in the game. "But when it got to where we needed to make plays, we made the plays we were supposed to make, and that's a credit to us making adjustments, [defensive coordinator Dean Pees] coming in at halftime. So you just make the plays and don't get pushed out of the way."
It's been a while since the Ravens defense faced this many questions to start the season.
One of the league's most established defenses suddenly has a new look, after an offseason that included the departures of linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding to free agency, the loss of defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who became the Indianapolis Colts' head coach, and a potentially season-ending Achilles injury to star linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Not only was Pees, who was the Ravens linebackers coach the previous two seasons, calling the shots from the sideline, his defense included four new starters: nose tackle Ma'ake Keomeatu, McPhee at defensive end and outside linebackers Albert McClellan and Paul Kruger.
The early returns from the new-look group were mixed. The secondary, which struggled in the preseason, held up well, limiting Dalton to 221 passing yards and holding Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green to five catches for 70 yards.
Ngata applied consistent pressure from the middle and finished with two sacks, while Webb and safety Bernard Pollard were able to get to Dalton on outside blitzes.
"I thought our blitz package was really good, getting in his face, getting him on the ground, guys getting their hands up, tipping balls," Pollard said. "I thought we did a really good job of that. This is Ravens football. We're going to send guys after you. We're going to play in coverage. We just got to get better and build on this. What we have coming up, we know everybody is going to give us their best shot."
When the Bengals fell behind by two touchdowns late in the third quarter and were forced to abandon their running game and throw almost exclusively, Dalton didn't stand a chance. Three of the Ravens' four sacks and one of their two takeaways came after Reed's interception gave the home team a 34-13 lead with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, for much of the first 21/2 quarters, Dalton was able to get the ball out quickly and accurately and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis chewed up big chunks of yardage on the ground.
"I think we played great against the pass. We got to go in and watch film and fix things as far as the run," said McPhee, who finished with a half sack in his first career start. "We got to play the run better and stop being so passive."
Overall, Cincinnati rushed 28 times for 129 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Last year's defense surrendered an average of 4.3 yards per carry and 92.6 yards on the ground per game, the second best total in the NFL.
"Run defense is critically important," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "That's a staple for us. That's how we base our whole philosophy defensively. That's where it starts. [It is] all very correctable stuff. That's the good news. Nothing that we're not capable of, nothing that we haven't seen before scheme-wise. It was just kind of little minor technique errors on our part that we can fix, should fix. Probably guys trying to do more then they actually should try to do."
Now the Ravens turn their attention to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles' offense struggled mightily in a 17-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday as quarterback Michael Vick completed just 29-of-56 passes and threw four interceptions, and running back LeSean McCoy lost a fumble.
However, the Eagles have one of the best groups of skilled players in the league, and the speed and athleticism of Vick, McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will surely challenge the Ravens.
"I think they had over 500 yards of total offense, didn't they? And they had four 20-yard plus plays called back," Harbaugh said when asked about the Eagles' offensive effort against the Browns. "Their offense … maybe the most explosive in the league right now. They got speed and playmakers everywhere. They've got a quarterback who is renowned for his play-making ability. Talk about scary, good to use a term that somebody threw out there last night. I know our guys [on the edge] did a good job this last game, but they're going to get tested like they've never been tested before."
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.
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