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New Players Step Up On Defense

Posted Nov 20, 2012

The Ravens have been getting significant contributions from unfamiliar faces.


Things have been far from predictable for the Ravens defense this season.
 
The leading tackler is an undrafted linebacker stepping in for the legendary Ray Lewis. The sack leader is an outside linebacker playing considerable minutes for the first time of his career. The starting cornerback tandem is made up of a former seventh-round draft pick and a special teams ace.
 
The Ravens defense has been riddled with injuries, but the group has embraced the “next man up” mantra, and perhaps no game personifies that better than Sunday’s 13-10 victory over the Steelers.
 
“It was a team effort,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “It was team defense.”
 
The Ravens defense received contributions from a variety of sources, including players who had hardly seen much playing time this season.
 
Cornerback Corey Graham started Sunday for the second time in the last three years, and he made a key interception and also had a pair of critical pass breakups in the second half. Fellow starting corner Cary Williams played tight coverage all night and limited the production of the Steelers wideouts. 
 
Recently-signed cornerback Chris Johnson opened the game as the nickel back just five days after joining the team, and he forced a momentum-shifting fumble on his first snap in a Ravens uniform.
 
Top tackler Dannell Ellerbe, who took on a starting job when Lewis went out, once again led the team in tackles despite playing with a broken thumb and sack leader Paul Kruger came up with a sack and applied pressure on quarterback Byron Leftwich throughout the night.
 
Defensive lineman Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson played significant minutes and had a big role in stifling the Steelers offense throughout the night. Safety James Ihedigbo came up with a crushing sack on Leftwich to stop a Steelers drive in the fourth quarter.
 
“There are so many guys that weren’t in the game playing, and yet, guys are stepping up,” Harbaugh said.
 
Players like Ihedigbo, who played just four snaps on defense, are making the most of any opportunities they get. 
 
“That’s what I’m here for, whatever I can do to make an impact,” Ihedigbo said. “I’m glad that I did and helped our team.”
 
The Ravens defense has long been known for its stars, but this isn’t the same defense as past years.
 
Lewis and franchise cornerback Lardarius Webb are both on injured reserve. Last year’s first-round pick Jimmy Smith is out for an unknown amount of time after a sports hernia operation. Stars like Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata have been hindered by injuries, and veterans Jarret Johnson and Corey Redding left in free agency.
 
In Sunday’s game, the Ravens had five different starters from last year’s AFC championship game.
 
Rather than players like Lewis, Suggs or Ngata leading the charge, the Ravens turned to unfamiliar faces like Graham, Johnson, Ihedigbo, Jones, Ellerbe and Tyson. That group helped lead the Ravens to arguably their best performance of the season in the key game against the rival Steelers. 
 
“The thing I am most proud about is how hard they played, how physical they were and how they just kept stepping up in a tough game,” Harbaugh said. "I was just proud of the whole group. I thought they played really well."

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