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Unified Ravens Defense Sits Atop the League, and It's Just Getting Started

Posted Aug 23, 2017

Through two preseason games, the Ravens defense has delivered on its potential. Cornerback Jimmy Smith says the group has a closer bond than any defense he’s been a part of, and it’s paying off on the field.

The Ravens entered training camp boldly proclaiming for anyone to hear that they intend to be the league’s best defense this year.

Well, through two preseason games, they’ve backed up their words.

The Ravens sit atop the league in total defense (yards allowed per game), passing defense and rushing defense – and it’s not even close.

Baltimore has allowed an average of 129 yards through its first two preseason games against the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. The next best defense has been the New York Giants, who have allowed 234 yards per game.

So how much stock does Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees put into the fast start?

“It’s better than being last,” Pees said with a laugh. “I don’t care whether it’s preseason or whatever. I want to do that in the season too. The whole idea of us going into this year was we want to be a great defense and we want to finish. You have to start to finish.”

The Ravens’ first-team defense held the Redskins’ starters to negative-2 yards over two series. Behind new starting quarterback Jay Cutler, the Dolphins had 11- and 16-yard pass completions, but were shut down after each and forced to punt.

It’s not just Baltimore’s starters who have looked good. The backups and even third-stringers have excelled as well, closing out games to give the Ravens a pair of lopsided wins thus far.

The defensive front has bullied opponents and pushed offensive linemen into quarterbacks’ laps. Defensive end Brent Urban filled the box score with four tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles against Washington. Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams have stuffed the run.

Young impact defenders such as rookie outside linebackers Tyus Bowser (bruising hit leading to interception), Tim Williams (sack) and cornerback Jaylen Hill (interception) have turned in big plays.

Yes, it’s just the preseason, and opposing teams are rolling in their backups just as Baltimore is, but the Ravens are getting contributions up and down the roster.

“To say it doesn’t mean anything – I think really coaches tell you that – I think that’s crap,” Pees said. “You want to go out there and play well every daggone week no matter who’s on the field.”

Baltimore knew its defense, which finished seventh overall last year, was going to be better this year after making heavy investments this offseason.

The Ravens re-signed defensive tackle Brandon Williams, reeled in big-time free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and used their first four draft picks on defense. The draft provided youth and speed to an aging pass rush (Bowser, Williams) and more depth and premier talent at cornerback (Marlon Humphrey).

But while the Ravens were clearly better on paper, what’s made the group special in cornerback Jimmy Smith’s eyes is how all those pieces have come together. It’s partly because of great leaders like Smith, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safeties Eric Weddle and Jefferson.

The other part is that they all realize how good they can be, and they’re unified together under the common goal of being the best in the league.

“This is kind of a weird thing to say, but I guess what gets me excited is the group we’re doing it with,” Smith said. “Over the years, I’ve played with Ed Reed and all these guys, but the way we gel and how cohesive we are as a unit has been different since I’ve been here.”

Smith has been a Raven since 2011. He said this year’s defense is more unified than the one that made the game-winning goal-line stand in Super Bowl XLVII.

“We’ve had tight core groups, but this one is different in the sense that everyone on defense is together,” Smith continued. “It sounds corny to say, but it’s like we really are all friends.”

While all that may sound well and nice, it pays dividends on the field.

It means players can pick each other up after bad plays, or push each other to play better, without anyone taking offense. Instead, the player who screwed up just wants to improve to make the entire unit better.

“That doesn’t always happen on every team,” Pees said. “A lot of times guys are just worried about themselves and doing their job. When you get a good unit together, they can help each other. They can talk about each other’s jobs.”

Smith was asked if the Ravens defense has any weaknesses. It’s already been hit by the injury bug at cornerback, as starting nickel Tavon Young and top backup Maurice Canady have both suffered knee injuries.

The group knows it still has a lot of work to do, and Smith said every game, including this Saturday’s third preseason contest against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium, is an opportunity to show just how good this unit can be.

“Every team has its weakness,” Smith said. “I don’t know it, we’re not going to show it and I’m definitely not going to tell you it, but I’m sure we have one. And if we ever do find a glimpse of it, we’ll fix it.

“This year, it’s a special unit. We feel it. I think the defense as a whole feels it. Now we have to prove it.”

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The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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