Until Thursday night, the Ravens defense was a lot of hope and hype.
Baltimore supercharged its already very good defense from a year ago with a couple free-agent additions in the secondary, a big-money re-signing of Brandon Williams and the first four picks of its 2017 draft. The group knew it was good on paper. It has been ruling Ravens training camp practices.
In its first game action Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, it lived up to the billing.
The Ravens' starting defense dominated the Washington Redskins' first-team offense, particularly up front in the trenches. Baltimore posted a first-half shutout and held the Redskins to 47 total yards in the first half.
"We have high aspirations for this year, especially on defense," safety Eric Weddle said. "Tonight was a good start."
On the first two series, in which Baltimore's entire starting defense went against the Redskins' starters, Washington had negative 1 yards.
Defensive end Brent Urban stood out among his peers with four tackles, one sack and two fumbles, but it was a complete and smothering effort.
The Redskins' first offensive series ended when versatile veteran safety Anthony Levine Sr. knifed into Washington's backfield to bring down quarterback Kirk Cousins on third-and-long.
Washington's second series ended when a third-and-1 run was blown up in the backfield by Urban and defensive tackle Michael Pierce. The Redskins pulled members of their starting offensive line after that.
"It was fire," safety Tony Jefferson said. "We went out there and set the tone, and then the young guys came out and answered. They responded well to their opportunities."
Rookie second-round pick Tyus Bowser stood out on Baltimore's third defensive series, making a run stop of 1 yard and then tracking down a short pass to wide receiver Matt Hazel for no gain.
The Redskins crossed into Ravens' territory for the first time near the end of the first quarter, but were pushed back onto their side of the field and forced to punt after Urban swatted the ball out of running back Samaje Perine's hands.
The Ravens' final two defensive series were just as bruising for the Redskins. Backup second-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor appeared to have forced and recovered a fumble after a massive hit on Hazel, only for it to be curiously overturned.
Baltimore's last defensive play of the first half was an interception by undrafted rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill, which was set up by a punishing hit by Bowser on backup Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy.
The Ravens had a strong defensive group last year, but chided themselves for not finishing. Part of that was because they didn't have the young talent, especially pass rushers and cornerbacks, to do so. That improvement was apparent Thursday night.
"It seems like we are a young and fast defense, and that is really good," veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "That's how you're going to be good in this league – to have a young, fast, healthy defense. They looked good, but it's only the first preseason game, and we all need to improve."