I'm taking a delicate walk here.
One that I'm sure is going to irritate our defensive coaches, the head coach and some defensive players.
But, here goes.
Right now, our offense is better than our defense. And, that should not be surprising to any of us involved with the Ravens. The offense, with outstanding play from two 2nd-year players – Joe Flacco and Ray Rice – is currently 5th best in the NFL, 3rd in the AFC. The defense, meanwhile, is ranked 19th and 8th, respectively.
On a Ravens' team so noted for the defense for a long time – even riding the record-setting 2000 defense to a Super Bowl title – the offense is playing better. Why? Because we're putting more assets into our offense than we have ever done before. Four of our last 5 No. 1 draft choices have been offensive players. (Through most of the last decade, the Ravens have spent more money on defensive players than any other NFL team.)
Right now we have 4 Ravens No. 1 draft choices playing for our defense:
That's 3 Pro Bowl players, including 2 NFL defensive players of the year (Ray and Ed), and a 4th who should be a Pro Bowler, Haloti. Plus, we have 2 high-priced veteran free agents we've signed from other teams:
- Trevor Pryce
- Domonique Foxworth
Now take a look at the Ravens' offensive composition. There are 5 No. 1 draft choices that were selected by Ozzie Newsome and his staff:
For a perspective, let's examine the Super Bowl XXXV champion Ravens. That defense was stacked with excellence. Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, the leading sacker in team history, Chris McAlister and Duane Starks were Ravens' No. 1 choices on that team. Jamie Sharper and Kim Herring were 2 high 2nd-round standouts starting with that record-setting defense. And, how about the veteran free agents that started for this stellar group: Hall of Famer Rod Woodson and three quarters of the line – Pro Bowlers Michael McCrary and Sam Adams, along with the Goose, Tony Siragusa.
The 2000 offense had 2 No. 1 choices drafted by Baltimore: Jonathan Ogden and Jamal Lewis, a rookie then who became the leading rusher in our history. Shannon Sharpe was the only high-priced free agent helping the offense that also featured a 1-year, $1 million quarterback, Trent Dilfer, fullback Sam Gash and tackle Harry Swayne. This group was helped by 2 young starters on the O-line: Mike Flynn and Edwin Mulitalo.
There was a lot more money spent on the defense on that championship team, and that worked for that season.
Recently, we have put more of our resources on the offense. We didn't keep Bart Scott, Adalius Thomas and Chris McAlister. But, we did draft a franchise QB with Joe, signed a 6-time Pro Bowl center with Matt and have one of the NFL's best receivers, Derrick Mason. Based on those investments, our offense should be better than the defense…just like the defense was better than the offense for all the years we put the majority of our resources and salary cap into Ray Lewis and Co.
Now, before Greg Mattison, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Terrell Suggs leap down my throat and yell at me for not having faith in the defense. I'm still a believer. I expect our defense to be elite. I didn't think the Bengals would go the length of the field in the final minute against us…I was not surprised that we got that 3-and-out at Minnesota that included Ray's sack of Favre in the final 5 minutes of the game at Minnesota…I was surprised that the Vikes came back against us for the winning field goal after Ray Rice's go-ahead TD. (And, of course, I believed that we were going to make the kick to beat the Vikings.)
(And let's not forget that even the NFL's best defenses give up game-winning drives. It happened to us early last season when both Tennessee and Pittsburgh did it to beat us. Of course, the Steelers got it done again in the same way at our place in December – and Santonio Holmes still didn't get the ball across the goal line.)
We're good defensively. Will we be as good as we were in 2008 when we ranked 2nd in the league? Or, will we make it a 7th consecutive season with a ranking in the top 10 of NFL defenses? We'll see. We have 10 games to go. I believe we can do it. But, I won't be surprised as our offense moves up the charts, our defensive ranking will go down some. That's how we're structured now.
We've invested to be more balanced. We're put together to beat you not just with our defense, but with a good offense and solid special teams.
Throughout this decade, we have paid the most money to the right players – guys who are winners that have kept us regularly in the playoff picture. We have proved that we pay the right players. I think we're still doing that. But, our formula to win is changing, and I have faith it will work in the short and long runs.
BASEBALL STAR VISITS RAVENS
Joe Mauer, the Twins catcher who today was named the American League's Outstanding Player for 2009 by his fellow players, visited our facility on Thursday and watched practice. Noted Baltimore lawyer, author and speaker Ron Shapiro, who is a special advisor to Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens, brought Mauer.
Mauer, who was a grade school quarterback in Minnesota taking snaps from his center Terrell Suggs, is also a graduate of St. Paul (MN) Cretin-Derham Hall High School – the same alma mater of Matt Birk. As a high school senior, Mauer was named the national prep football player of the year by USA Today, Parade Magazine and Gatorade after he threw for 3,022 yards with 41 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Very impressive.
Had the opportunity to ask Joe if he thought catching in baseball was harder than playing quarterback in the NFL. Both have been described as the hardest jobs in professional sports. "I have so much respect for NFL quarterbacks, and they do have to process a lot in a hurry and make the right plays. Plus, they do get hit," Mauer said humbly.
"Is catching harder? I'm not sure, because I didn't play quarterback in college or the pros. There is a lot of wear and tear on catchers. And, we have to play offense and defense. Catchers have a lot of responsibilities when the other team bats. Then I bat third and have to produce there. I do know some people have said that the hardest thing for any athlete is to hit the baseball. I'm not sure who has a tougher job."
Mauer, who has won 3 American League batting titles – an amazing feat on its own and even more spectacular for a catcher – spent time with Suggs and Birk after practice. He's an impressive young man and humble, too.
OK, it seems like we haven't played a game in a month. We're ready – excited by the challenge and opportunity to play an undefeated team at our place. Let's go beat the Broncos!
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.