Eisenberg: QB Pressure A Priority Over Running


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More energetic and forceful than they had been in several recent games, the Ravens smiled broadly after their 30-24 win and, in so many words, said, "That is who we are."

"We let our personality shine," linebacker Tavares Gooden said.

In a perfect world, they would continue to rely on their ground game and a pressure defense for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. That's their best shot, playing the chin-out football for which they're known.

But the world is seldom perfect, and an opponent is always on the field with them, adjusting to what they do. The Ravens can't just snap their fingers and say, "Now that we've done it once, we're going to run it great and give quarterbacks fits from now on."

Which element is the one they absolutely, positively must possess going forward? I've been calling for the running game to receive more attention, but there's no doubt an amped-up pass rush is the top priority.

The Ravens can find other ways to move the ball and score, but they're in trouble if they aren't consistently pressuring quarterbacks as they head into a playoff field that includes Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and (gulp) a possible first-round matchup with Peyton Manning.

They seemed to get that memo, dialing up more blitzes Sunday and bringing effective pressure from a variety of people and places. Brees seemed surprised, perhaps because he had watched tape of the Ravens' win in Houston six days earlier, when they basically sat back and let Matt Schaub carve them up with dinks and dunks.

Their approach was quite different against the Saints, and listening to Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh Monday, it sure sounded like they had reached a crossroads after Houston, looked in the mirror and concluded they had to make a change.

Harbaugh never second-guesses his assistants, but as he spoke Monday, he sounded like a guy who wanted to remind everyone what the Ravens should stand for.

"We've had games where we've blitzed a lot, we've had games where we haven't. I think it is game-to-game, but I also think that we have to keep in mind – and this is for us – that that is our personality. We are going to be a pressure team," Harbaugh said.

He continued: "We don't want to back off that, and whatever percentage that ends up being, it's going to be closer to 50 percent than it's going to be zero percent, by far. So, that's just got to be something that we keep in mind, and I think our players feel strongly about that, I feel strongly about that, and our coaches feel that way, too."

From that quote, I'm gathering some players spoke up about wanting to pressure more rather than sit back in the wake of Houston, and the coaches listened.

The defensive players were almost giddy after Sunday's win, like kindergartners who had been let out for recess after a morning of drudgery.

"Everyone was flying around. We were playing relentless. It was like there was a fire underneath us. I loved it," Gooden said. "There was so much energy out there. The whole defense had a ton of energy. That's what it takes to win championships."

No doubt about that. The Ravens' defense wasn't anywhere close to a championship unit in Houston, but it was against the Saints and their elite quarterback. It made Brees uncomfortable, which is any defense's only leverage against a brilliant passer.

"Sometimes, in some games, you get pushed in different directions," Harbaugh said, "but we're a pressure defense, and we're always going to be a pressure defense. That's who we are."

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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