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Ravens Using Interesting Defensive Wrinkles

Posted Nov 12, 2012

Baltimore used Courtney Upshaw at defensive tackle and played with extra linebackers.

Is the Ravens defense a 3-4 or a 4-3? Or is it even something different from that?

It’s unclear after Sunday’s 55-20 win against the Oakland Raiders because the Ravens mixed and matched their defensive front seven frequently.

Without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees sometimes moved rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to defensive tackle, and had up to five linebackers on the field at once.

“We added a new little wrinkle,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We got some extra linebackers on the field, and those guys went out there and worked. With the talent that we had, we utilized it well.”

Here was the Ravens’ starting front seven:

McClain was at middle linebacker. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was the weak side linebacker and Albert McClellan was the strong side linebacker.

Rookie DeAngelo Tyson and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs were the defensive ends with their hands in the dirt and Upshaw and Art Jones were the defensive tackles.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said the entire defense, including coaches and players, talk to Pees on Tuesdays about the game plan.

“They’ve been very creative,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve been very creative to find pressure. They’ve been very creative to change up the coverages.”

“A lot of guys on the defense are finding our niche,” Jones added. “We’ve all got different body types, different styles of play. Coaches are moving us around and it’s getting better and better each week.”

Upshaw slimmed down to play outside linebacker and now is being moved inside with the big bodies in the trenches. He has been playing some defensive tackle the past two weeks.

The rookie is known for his physicality, so he can hold up against bigger linemen while bringing some additional explosion inside the trenches.

“I enjoy it,” Upshaw said. “It’s definitely something different, but I’m having fun out there. I’m always up for a challenge.”

The Ravens still surrendered 422 yards of total offense, but they got more pressure up front (three sacks) than in recent games and limited Oakland’s already injury-riddled running game to just 72 yards.

Baltimore moved in and out of formations throughout the game, often times taking hulking defensive tackles Terrence Cody and Ma’ake Kemoeatu off the field for a smaller, faster lineup that could better keep up with Oakland’s speed.

But Ellerbe said the changes may not just be a one-game solution.

“I feel like we could use that for power football too,” Ellerbe said. “It’s just something the coaches are going to have to put out there. I like it.”

Ellerbe and safety Bernard Pollard finished the game tied for the team lead in tackles with 11. Since taking over for Ray Lewis, Ellerbe has been atop the Ravens’ tackles list in all three games.

And since a 43-13 beatdown in Houston on Oct. 21, the Ravens defense has surrendered just two touchdowns.

“At the end of the day, we trust and believe in what Dean Pees calls and we trust and believe in those guys that's  [are] out there on the field and their ability to make plays," cornerback Cary Williams said.

“Me and Sizzle were talking about it during the game. We look good, we’re out there hunting and doing what we’re supposed to do. Guys are trusting and believing in the system, and guys are going out there making plays when opportunities come up.”

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