The Ravens defense was one of the league's best over the second half of last year. This season, it wants to be one of the best all season long.
In order to do that, Baltimore needs to get off to a better start, and it begins Saturday night against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens' first-team defense hasn't induced a ton of confidence so far this preseason. The unit surrendered a 68-yard drive to quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers in the preseason opener. The Colts' Andrew Luck orchestrated a 61-yard drive, then a 38-yard drive in the second preseason game.
In neither instance did the opponent score a touchdown. Neither game featured much, or any, game planning. And leaders Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil weren't* *on the field.
Still, it wasn't what Pees wants.
"I'd like to see us get off to a faster start," Pees said. "The first two preseason games we've done a good job of holding someone to a field goal on drives, but I'd really rather not see a 10 or 11-play drive to start the game."
Pees said the biggest problem in Indianapolis was penalties, too many missed assignments due to mental mistakes (especially in the running game) and poor pass-rush lanes that allowed the quarterbacks to run.
Head Coach John Harbaugh already spoke out against the penalties. The Ravens had 11, including seven that gave the Colts first downs. Defensive tackle Kapron Lewis-Moore, linebacker Za'Darius Smith and rookie cornerback Maurice Canady all jumped offsides.
Pees said mental mistakes led to troubles against the run. The Colts rushed for 90 yards and had a few solid rumbles in the first two series, including one 7-yard rumble that put them comfortably in field goal range.
"In the running game, we got a third-and-1 and we had two guys misaligned and they run for 7 yards," Pees said. "It didn't have anything to do about being physical or anything else. We had no chance."
Of the Colts' 90 rushing yards, 38 came from their quarterbacks. Luck scrambled for one key first down on his opening drive.
"Our pass-rush lanes were horrible on that game," Pees said. "We didn't try to pressure Luck. I wanted to see if we could just rush with some of the guys we had in there. … We have to do better, in a four-man rush, of not letting the quarterback out."
That will be especially important for the Ravens to improve* *before the regular season considering they'll have two running quarterbacks to start the Year: Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor in Week 1 and Cleveland's Robert Griffin III in Week 2.
As far as the secondary is concerned, the Ravens haven't given up any big passing plays yet this preseason, which was their undoing in the first half of last year, but forced just one incompletion between Newton and Luck (13-of-14).
Pees said he thinks the unit, which has two new starting safeties in Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb, will get better with time. Keeping them healthy, which has been a struggle in recent years, will make a huge difference too.
"I think if we can keep those guys in there and solidify it, I feel really good about [the secondary]," Pees said.
"I really feel good about this defense. … I feel like we're maybe a little faster than we were maybe a year ago on defense, which is a good thing. We're going to need to be."
While Pees said he's very optimistic about his unit, he doesn't feel all that different from last year. The loss of Suggs sent ripple effects throughout the unit, and it didn't really recover until the second half of the season. Over the second half, the Ravens gave up the fewest passing yards per game in the league.
"We were a darn good defense in the second half of the year, but we can't wait until the second half of this year," Pees said. "We have to start out where we ended up."