A Raven Through and Through


There was really nothing fancy about it – no bells or whistles. It was the first play from scrimmage and the Ravens had lost their previous three games by a combined 11 points.

The maligned defense needed to make a point. Enter Jarret Johnson.

Seconds later, Orton was flat on his back and the outside linebacker had recorded his team-high fifth sack of the season.

"There isn't a better way to start a game," said a smiling Johnson. "It was a free-runner and a clean shot on the quarterback. You can't beat that."

That single play set the tempo for a game dominated by a Ravens' defense and set the stage for a fierce divisional battle this Sunday against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens drafted Johnson in the fourth round because of his toughness and relentless style of play. A major complication in bringing in a player of Johnson's caliber is actually keeping him in a Ravens' uniform because so many other teams are willing to spend big bucks for an athlete with such skill sets.

However, one of the main reasons Johnson continues to play so well, and in a Ravens' uniform is because of one thing – loyalty.

Johnson has been great for the Baltimore Ravens and vice versa.

Coming out of the University of Alabama, Johnson knew he was headed to the right organization.

"It was exciting for me because [the Ravens] were known for their defensive style and mentality," said Johnson. "When I got here, I found out just what it was like and I knew it was definitely my kind of team."

The coaches thought Johnson would be best utilized as a linebacker rather than on the defensive line, where he played in college. After the departure of linebacker Adalius Thomas to the Patriots, Johnson became a dominating fixture of the linebacking core and is currently having his most productive season to date.

It was his versatility that impressed not only the Ravens, but also many other teams. A few seasons ago when Johnson was in line for a new contract, he was in the position of entertaining more lucrative offers from other organizations.

"I had similar offers," said Johnson of his contract negotiations. "The way it was structured would have been a better deal with another team. But I knew leaving the Ravens and leaving the coaching staff would have been a big mistake. I wanted to stay loyal to them just like they stayed loyal to me by offering me what they did."

Johnson's decision to stay a Raven has certainly paid off for all parties involved. Johnson felt it was important to remain with an organization that knew how to treat their players.

"I think the Ravens are one of the rare teams that do have a strong loyalty to their players," said Johnson. "You even still see a lot of former players around [the facility]. There's definitely a loyalty to the organization and guys who have usually spent a lot of time around here usually stick around."

Loyalty is a word often used in association with the Ravens – especially the defense. Much has been said about the defense's commitment to excellence, to each other, to their coaches. Because of this, much was made about the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets. Though Ryan was revered by many of his players, Johnson recognizes why new coordinator Greg Mattison is deserving of equal respect.

"When Rex (Ryan) was here, he had his guys and he would go to bat for them and would always stick up for them," said Johnson. "If someone did something wrong, he would put it on his shoulders just like we would do the same for him. And I see a similar situation with Matty. Matty stands up and battles for his guys, so it's a very similar situation."

This Sunday, the Ravens must contend with the Bengals and their head coach Marvin Lewis – another former Ravens defensive coordinator.

This is the team that earlier in the season broke the Ravens' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher. This is the team that came from behind in the fourth quarter, led by QB Carson Palmer, and stole a victory from the host Ravens.

The significance of this game is not lost upon Johnson.

"Divisional games are always going to have a little something extra," said Johnson. "You tend to know the players a little better and you're familiar with their personalities and their style of play. In a lot of ways, things can get a lot more heated so it's always fun to play within the division."

Reversing the outcome of their first meeting will have everything to do with a return to the basics. "The first thing we have to do is stop the run because they ran pretty well against us last time," said Johnson. "It's something we take a lot of pride in and it's something we take personally. It hurts that they ran well against us, but at the same time, you just have to keep on playing."

Those donning Ravens' purple on Sunday are certainly hoping last week's effort against the previously unbeaten Broncos is no one-weekend wonder.

Johnson and the rest of the defense are certainly going to make sure that isn't the case, as they look to club and thump and climb their way back to the top of the AFC North standings.

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