The Ravens led the NFL in both takeaways (34) and interceptions (22) last season, giving this year's defense a tough act to follow.
That does not mean the emphasis on forcing turnovers has decreased. In fact, one of this year's goals is to produce more takeaways, more game-changing plays that could possibly push the Ravens into the playoffs.
"I just got done telling the defense in a meeting, what I'm excited for, as a coach, is to see them turn it loose and play," Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "It's going to be great to see all the work that they've put in and how they handle different situations and just cut it loose and go."
On Sunday, the Ravens will face a young quarterback in Nathan Peterman of the Buffalo Bills, who knows something about turnovers. Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half of his first NFL start last year, which came against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Bills believe Peterman has improved, and he won the starting job during the preseason by playing well and looking far more confident. But preseason is not the regular season. Watching Peterman deal with a loud M&T Bank Stadium crowd and the Ravens' defense Sunday will provide a better barometer on how much Peterman has really changed.
"I think we all have to understand that he's still a young player, just in the beginning stages of his sophomore year," Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott said of Peterman. "He's only going to continue to grow and get better. He's an extremely mature young man, with a good mental mindset and a good football acumen. I think those are good attributes for a young football player."
However, the Ravens' defense would love to give Peterman another awful experience Sunday. Weddle led the Ravens in interceptions with seven in 2017, and both Weddle and fellow safety Tony Jefferson will be looking for opportunities to bait Peterman into mistakes. The Ravens' defense wants a signature performance in Martindale's debut as defensive coordinator.
"He's going to put his stamp on our defense," Weddle said. "Listen, this defense has been here since they moved to Baltimore. This is known for great defenses, and we were pretty dang good last year – turnovers, scoring on 'D' – and we had a lot of good games. We didn't finish in some aspects, and it hurt us in the long run, but [it's] something to be proud of. Hopefully the things that we've worked on in the offseason and in training camp have become a positive for us. We expect to be great on defense and play situational football to a 'T' and win a lot of games."
If the Ravens remain prolific in producing takeaways, it will set up their offense for easier scoring opportunities. The Ravens expect to move the ball more consistently with a receiving corps led by new additions Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead IV. But the Ravens could make a major leap offensively if the defense consistently sets up Joe Flacco and company with excellent field position.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said the defense's emphasis on forcing turnovers is constant. It begins in meetings, carries over onto the practice field, and hopefully materializes during games.
"You have to go out there and do it when it counts," Harbaugh said. "I think it's a function of playing fast and being in the right spot, and having good players, and having guys that can catch, and having a hard-hitting team that knocks balls loose, and guys that run to the ball that can pick up balls – all those things go into it. To me, it's a function of just playing great defense, aggressive defense and having really good players. That's what we're going to try to do again this year."
The Ravens had eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries in five preseason games, setting the tone that coaches wanted to see. Taking the football from opponents is a habit that the Ravens' defense does not plan to break.
"I think that you get what you emphasize, and John has done a great job with that," Martindale said. "The last two years, we emphasized takeaways, and we've emphasized ball security on the other side of it, and we've had drills throughout training camp with that. I think we're on a good start throughout the preseason as well. They come in bunches, so let's keep them rolling."