The Patriots defense leads the league in every statistical category this year.
It’s no huge surprise considering it suffocated the high-powered Los Angeles Rams in last year’s Super Bowl, holding them to just three points.
But you know what that same Patriots defense did at the start of last season? Through the first seven weeks, it allowed more than 25 points per game.
The Ravens started the 2019 season off on a rough note with three straight games of blown assignments, long runs, etc. After four weeks, the Ravens ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense – a shocking number for a historically defensively dominant franchise.
Then, a couple weeks ago, after the Ravens held the Bengals without an offensive touchdown until the final minutes, linebacker Pernell McPhee said those worried the sky was falling on Baltimore’s defense should come out of hiding.
“If you look at it last year, Patriots were 25th or 26th early in the season, and they ended up winning the Super Bowl late in the season,” McPhee said.
“It’s still early in the season. The longer the season goes, the better we are going to be on defense. We are going to start communicating better and playing as one.”
McPhee won’t be around to see it after suffering a season-ending triceps injury in Seattle, but he’ll certainly be watching this Sunday as the Ravens take on those Patriots, Tom Brady, and Co. The Ravens will be trying to replicate what New England did last year.
The Patriots’ offense is ranked 16th in the NFL through eight weeks – right in the middle of the pack. It’s still led, however, by the GOAT and his right-hand man, wide receiver Julian Edelman. New England has a rotation at running back and a ground game that can get downhill.
The Ravens know if they follow up a sterling defensive performance in Seattle with another strong showing against the Patriots on primetime, it will be a sign that they’ve not only steadied the ship, but could have a defense that is a strength down the stretch.
“If we can beat the Seahawks and Patriots, I think we can beat any team in the league,” defensive end Chris Wormley said.
The Ravens lost their top tackler (Patrick Onwuasor) and top defensive communicator (Tony Jefferson) to injuries and somehow played better.
There’s a lot that goes into the Ravens’ defensive turnaround, but one of the primary reasons that players pointed to has been the free-agent additions nobody expected. Inside linebackers Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and defensive end Jihad Ward have all played well, with Bynes leading the group.
Bynes was watching football games on TV – criticizing commentators who thought they knew how a play should have been defended – the week before being signed by the Ravens and immediately jumped into the starting lineup in Pittsburgh.
When Bynes arrived in Baltimore, he was shocked at the chatter he was hearing about the defense. Remember, he was part of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII team, and he knows full well about the tradition.
“Everybody was looking at the first four games like it was the end of the season. Everybody looked at it like we were going under,” Bynes said. “It’s all about who overcomes adversity during a season.”
Bynes has brought a calming presence to the defense, a player that knows the middle linebacker position well and what everybody around him should be doing.
“I think having Josh here, that older guy who has been here before and been able to communicate on different teams has been a big help for us,” Wormley said. “He’s getting us in the right spots.”
Safety Chuck Clark has stepped in admirably after Jefferson went down with a season-ending injury. Like Bynes, he has also been a steady, smart player helping everybody to cut down on mistakes.
Ward has provided some physicality on the edge. Rookie Jaylon Ferguson is next in line to step up after McPhee’s season-ending injury, but the third-round pick has already shown flashes that he’s ready for the task.
Now cornerback Jimmy Smith is back from his Week 1 injury, joining a loaded cornerbacks group that added Marcus Peters, who had a pick-six in his first game.
All of a sudden, despite a lot of changes, the Ravens defense is looking pretty good.
“I told the defense today, it’s like this city. It’s a blue-collar city,” Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. “The guys that come in here work hard. Some of them, like Josh Bynes, just came off the couch and wasn’t expected to do much and is playing really well. For us, as long as we keep that focus and handle the series of events, you’ll see some good things to come.”
How good? We’ll get a better idea Sunday night versus the Patriots.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Earl Thomas III said. “We know that. But we’re ready for it and we’re going to accept it.”