Defenses Battle For Respect

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The "frozen tundra" of Green Bay's Lambeau Field in December is not ideal for an offensive shootout, but Monday's battle between two of the top defenses in the NFL suggests rough going for both the Ravens and the Packers.

Fans in Baltimore are familiar with a Ravens' unit that is regularly among the league's top tier. But, it's the Packers who own the top ranking in NFL currently while the Ravens are 10th overall after allowing 308.9 yards per game through 11 weeks.

What about the rejuvenated Packers?

They are ready for the respect they feel they deserve with a No. 1-rated defense.

"We're still the underdog," Packers safety Nick Collins said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. "We're not the team that's talked about. It's the other team."

"The thing you hear now is, 'Can we be as physical as Baltimore?'" asked cornerback Tromon Williams.

"That's like a slap in our face," Collins added.

The Packers haven't cracked the top 10 since 2005 (seventh) and struggled to find an identity in the transition from head coach Mike Sherman to current coach Mike McCarthy in 2006.

Despite a switch from a longtime 4-3 defensive front, the Packers converted to an aggressive 3-4 this year under the tutelage of new coordinator Dom Capers.

With the NFL's current top-ranked unit, it seems like Green Bay is rounding into its personality.

"Obviously, they're playing well," said Ravens center Matt Birk, who is familiar with the Packers after spending 11 seasons with Green Bay's NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. "That's not an easy thing to do, to change systems that quickly and to have it all click. Like all teams, they've had injuries to some of their marquee guys on defense, but other guys have stepped in. They haven't missed a beat."

The last time the Packers ranked No. 1-overall on defense was 2001, when it enjoyed that position in Week 3 of that season. The unit has been completely lights-out this year, surrendering only 281.5 yards per game and logging a league-best 17 turnover ratio.

Cornerback Charles Woodson deserves some of the credit for the gaudy statistics.

In his 12th season, Woodson has made a successful conversion from bump-and-run coverage to one that relies more on reading the quarterback. He is tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions and boasts four forced fumbles, which is the league's second-most among all defensive backs.

"He's playing tremendous right now," said Ravens receiver Derrick Mason. "You can't say anything but good things about him. So, we have to be aware of what he's doing and where he is. He's one of those corners that can play a guy man-to-man and not need any help and pretty much shut down that side of the field. You just have to be in-tune in what you're doing and take advantage of an opportunity when you have one."

The last three contests have been solid for the Packers. Against the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, Green Bay allowed seven, 24 and 12 points, respectively, for an average of 14.3 a game. For perspective, the Ravens are rated fourth by giving up 17.1 points a game all season.

"They've really come on the last three weeks or so," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "They're very creative, especially in the sub packages. A lot of young guys are flying around and playing well. And Charles Woodson is playing at as high of a level as he's played in his entire career. Turnovers have been key. That's probably the No. 1 factor in their success."

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco feels that the Packers look somewhat familiar, and rightfully so. Capers helped build the Pittsburgh Steelers' feared blitzing defenses of the last decade when he served there from 1992-94.

The Packers are very similar to what "Blitzburgh" does against the Ravens in the AFC North. Then again, the Packers could also be compared to Baltimore.

Dating back to 2006, the Ravens have snared 83 interceptions for 1,496 return yards and 13 touchdowns. Coincidentally, Green Bay boasts 82 interceptions for 1,494 yards and 13 scores.

"I think they take after Pittsburgh a little bit," Flacco said, noting rookie linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones on the outside. "They have a bunch of athletic guys. They have young guys on the outside, and they've played well the last handful of games. We have to come out and play aggressive. It's going to be a physical game, and we have to be ready for it."

Aside from Woodson's stellar production, the Packers do not have another player that specifically stands out. Matthews leads them in sacks with five. Inside linebacker Nick Barnett leads them in tackles with 83. And safety Nick Collins is just behind Woodson with four picks.

Still, the Ravens know they will have to account for everyone, not just Woodson.

"Those guys are playing well," Birk noted. "It's one of those defenses that when you look across the board, they're all good. They don't have one guy with like 12 sacks. Everybody is very solid, which to me means that they understand the scheme and they play great team defense."

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