After somewhat of a rocky start to the 2009 campaign, the Ravens' defense is rounding into its typical form.
Known as one of the NFL's top units year-in and year-out, Baltimore gave up an average of 20.0 points per game over the first four weeks of the season.
Now, the Ravens seem to be hitting a stride. Since a 17-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 11, the Ravens have allowed just 15.2 points a game, tying the Bengals for the stingiest mark in the league during that seven-week span.
And, in the month of November, it has been a meager 10.3-point average.
Ravens safety Dawan Landry believes the phenomenon can simply be traced to a commitment to fundamental play.
"We believe in our coaching," said Landry. "There were a couple of tough games during that early stretch, but ever since we came off the bye, everybody took a hold of their position. We've had more walk-thrus to make sure everybody had their assignments down.
"It's about the technique and fundamentals, and I think that's showing right now. You have to take your job serious and go back to the basics."
That commitment has shown in renewed consistency for the defense of late.
The Ravens – ranked fifth against the run (92.1 yards per game – held the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts to 86 and 76 yards rushing, respectively, the past two weeks.
Against the Colts, quarterback Peyton Manning and his high-powered offense were largely kept in check even though the outcome was a 17-15 Indianapolis victory.
"Any good team, I think the thing that you find going throughout the course of the season, is you find consistency," linebacker Ray Lewis explained. "And [it's] week in and week out, as a total team – not defensive play, not offensive play, not special teams play. Everybody plays well on any given Sunday. That's what consistency is, and that's what rolls in and turns into wins."
In addition to consistent, the Ravens have been opportunistic, notching nine takeaways (five interceptions, four fumble recoveries) dating back to their second Bengals game.
Manning threw two interceptions, to Landry and safety Ed Reed, and Colts tight end Tony Santi lost a fumble when he was popped in the back by Lewis at the goal line.
The Ravens simply weren't getting those types of bounces earlier in the year.
"Those balls that didn't go your way then, and now it's going our way," noted Lewis. "That's the only thing you've got to keep doing, is just playing through it. Just be consistent enough to truly play through it. Right now, I just think overall we're just doing a great job.
"Ed and Dawan are back there doing their thing. Corners are playing great. Everybody's just getting to the football – all at one time. I just think it's the turns of seasons. I talked about this the first half of the season, where games go your way or they don't go your way, breaks of the ball go your way or don't go your way. I just think a couple of breaks of the ball have kind of [gone] our way."
With a recent onslaught of injuries, most notable to starting linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs and cornerback Fabian Washington, the Ravens have been forced to send a multitude of players on the field.
Against the Colts, Jarret Johnson moved to Suggs' rush linebacker position, and second-year player Jameel McClain filled in for him with solid results. Later, rookie Paul Kruger saw some time as a Suggs substitute.
And in the fourth quarter, when Washington's season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, it was rookie Lardarius Webb who played confidently with the first-team.
"We've always had extremely versatile players, guy who can play multiple positions," Johnson said. "To have a defense like that, you have to have players that can do a lot of things. Suggs goes down, I step up, Jameel goes in for me. That's just how it worked then. You could have 10 different combinations if you wanted to. It's a product to the players we have."
The Ravens expect more of the same this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is shaping up to be another classic Baltimore/Pittsburgh matchup with playoff implications.
It would help the Ravens' chances if they bring a classic version of their defense, as well.
"We have a variety of packages each week," explained Johnson. "We're not going to show the same thing twice. One play will be up one week, and something else will be up next week.
"I think we've done a good job of putting the guys in the right positions to make plays. That's how it's been around here for a while."