Ravens Defense On The Rise


Head Coach John Harbaugh hasn't only seen his defense improve over the course of the last month.

As he stood on the sideline in San Diego, he saw it improve over the course of that very game.

The Ravens defense uncharacteristically fell to near the bottom of the NFL in the most-referenced statistic (yards allowed per game) earlier this season. It was ranked 28th in the league following the 30-point loss to Houston.

But over the month of November and since Baltimore's bye, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points per game (14.5) in the NFL. They surrendered just three points to the Chargers in the second half.

While Pittsburgh enters Sunday's game with the top-ranked defense, the Ravens are catching up – particularly in the points allowed department.The Steelers are fourth in the league (19.1 points per game) while the Ravens are seventh (19.9).

"We're used to a certain style of defense around here and we're getting back to it," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said Wednesday.

Suggs said he doesn't know of a main reason for the turnaround. Harbaugh attributed it to better coaching and better individual play.

Harbaugh started with first-year Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees and his staff.

"We have a great scheme package," Harbaugh said. "We do some really, really great things. I think they do a good job every week of adjusting. We've put some packages together that have put guys in position to do the things they do best."

Pees has mixed and matched his defense, partly because of injuries, throughout the last several weeks. He shifts seamlessly between a 4-3 and 3-4 defense and moves players around. For example, he's used first-round pick Courtney Upshaw as an outside linebacker and defensive tackle.

Harbaugh also said the players themselves have improved.

"We're attacking the line of scrimmage better, we're taking on blocks better, we're tackling much better, our underneath coverage is much more disciplined and the eyes in the back end are getting better and better every week," Harbaugh said. "We're just playing better football."

Looking more closely at the numbers, the Ravens have done a better job against the run – particularly on early downs.

They've moved from 30th in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game (142.9) to 26th (128.5) since the bye. They're particularly good on first down. The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in average yards allowed per rush on first down (3.82).

That has put opponents in more third-and-long situations and given the Ravens a better opportunity to get after the quarterback.

Baltimore has notched 12 sacks in its last three games. They had 13 in the previous eight.

"I think it's what we're doing on first and second down that's allowing us to get in the right situations," said outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who has four sacks in the last three games.

"I think that was the struggle in the first half of the season. We were giving up too much on first and second down. It's hard to get a good rush when [the quarterback takes] a three-step drop and it's third-and-short. It changes the whole game."

Baltimore's defense is also still tops in the league in red-zone defense. Once opponents get inside the 20-yard line, the Ravens surrender a touchdown just 34.2 percent of the time.

"They're dominating situational football," said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, whose team scored just 10 points against the Ravens two weeks ago. "They keep scoring down and that helps you win football games."

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