Eisenberg: Ravens' Secret To Success This Season


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?John Eisenberg

In the wake of those remarks, and after a strange offseason in which there was plenty of time for self-analysis, the Ravens have made substantial changes. They've hired a new defensive coordinator, given their quarterback more authority and overseen a lineup overhaul that could result in as many as eight new starters.

What are they hoping for? What would produce that playoff run?

The offense has received the majority of the attention because it was the unit that struggled most obviously last season, ranking 20th in yards per game. The Ravens have brought in a new fullback and runner, a new receiver, new tight ends, and their intentions are clear. They want more speed and big-play explosion, but also a return of the pounding ground game that was their signature in 2008 and 2009.

Clearly, the Ravens aren't going anywhere unless quarterback Joe Flacco has a solid season and brings those new offensive pieces together. It has to happen.

But let's not kid ourselves. The Ravens are built on a foundation of defense. That's the unit that has defined them, the unit that has carried them, the unit General Manager Ozzie Newsome has long regarded as the first priority for winning.

It is the unit that can do the most to get them where they want to go in 2011.

You won't hear anyone in the organization say this publicly, but they weren't satisfied with their defense in 2010. A unit with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs – four of the best players in the game at their positions – shouldn't finish 21st in pass defense and 10th in overall defense. While that's not bad, that's certainly not the Ravens.

The defense had its share of strong games in 2010, but it melted down against non-playoff opponents Houston and Buffalo, gave back a win that Joe Flacco had stolen in Atlanta, and of course, allowed Pittsburgh to drive the length of the field for the winning touchdown in the playoffs.

Again, that's not the Ravens.

Chuck Pagano, the new defensive coordinator, has essentially been given a mandate: Get this thing going again. Turn the Ravens' defense back into the Ravens' defense.

The areas that need to be improved aren't a secret. The Ravens recorded an all-time low in sacks and struggled to defend the pass in 2010. Frankly, they were just too passive at times.

Pagano is off to an interesting start, shaking things up with an experimental concept at cornerback (going "big" with Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams) while pledging better results in the pass rush. There is a renewed sense of electricity, although, of course, what happens in the season is what counts.

But there's no doubt what the Ravens are looking for: To be the Ravens again, the team with the defense you don't want to face.

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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