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Ravens' Defensive Shutout May Be the Start of Something Special


The Ravens didn't shy away from talking a big game about their defense this summer.

They used words like historic and legendary to describe their expectations, and even suggested the unit could be as good as the iconic 2000 Ravens defense.

They showed what all the hype was about in Sunday's 20-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Baltimore's defense was simply dominant. The unit controlled the game by stifling a Bengals offense full of playmakers, and came up with opportunistic turnovers to put the Ravens offense in great position.

"We did exactly what we want to do," defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. "And the thing is that we still have to get a lot better. It's the same thing we've been saying since the beginning of OTA's. We think we have a special group here. This is the start of it."

The Ravens knew coming into the regular-season opener that they would lean heavily on the defense to win games. Baltimore made significant offseason investments on that side of the ball by re-signing defensive tackle Brandon Williams to a massive contract, adding free agent cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson, and then drafting defenders with their first four picks.

Baltimore's defense already ranked seventh in the NFL in 2016, and all the offseason upgrades had the group confident about how dominant they could be this season. The buzz started to grow after the Ravens ranked first in the league in virtually every defensive category this preseason, and the finished product looked as good as the Ravens could have hoped against Cincinnati. 

"Shout-out to Ozzie Newsome [for adding] Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, the young kid, Marlon Humphrey," veteran leader Terrell Suggs said. "That's what the GM is supposed to do, go get some Raven guys. I feel honored to be out there with them today. So shout-out to Ozzie Newsome, make sure you print that too."

Baltimore's defense not only shut down the Bengals – Cincinnati gained only 221 total yards – but it kept the Bengals from ever getting comfortable. The Ravens pressured Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, sacking him five times, and he had one of the worst statistical outings of his career.

Dalton's four interceptions were a career high and his 28.4 quarterback rating was the second lowest. The shutout was Baltimore's first since the 2009 season.

The defense also created five turnovers. They came from a variety of sources, as cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb and linebacker C.J. Mosley all came up with interceptions. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce also recovered a fumble forced by Suggs.

"We've been preaching plus-28 [turnover differential]. That's the NFL record for a team [over the last 33 years]. I know we lost one ball, but overall, the defense got five turnovers. So that's a great way to start the opener; a good way to start against a tough conference team."

The Ravens forced a pair of the turnovers inside their own red zone on drives when the Bengals were primed to score. The first came in the second quarter when Mosley showed off his athleticism to snare a pass in the end zone for an interception. Suggs then came up with a strip-sack on Dalton at the 14-yard line during Cincinnati's opening drive of the second half.

All of the turnovers made up for a Ravens offense that put up only 268 yards and struggled to get into a clear rhythm.

"It was one of our old-fashioned games," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It reminded me of one of the games when I was a rookie."

No player on Baltimore's defense was more impressive than its leader, 34-year-old Suggs. The 15-year veteran looked more like 24 as he played with relentless energy throughout the game.

He came up with a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and a deflected pass that led to an interception. He nearly had a third sack, but Dalton wrangled his way out of his grip late in the fourth quarter.

"The dude looked great," Williams said. "Every year he just keeps getting younger and younger. It's crazy."

The outing was as good as the Ravens could have hoped for in the opener. But Suggs made sure not to let everyone feel too good about it. He used his entire press conference to downplay the showing, and said on several occasions that the unit still has a lot of work to do.

His message to his teammates was clear: Don't get too excited about one game.

"Yeah, it feels good, like right now," Suggs said. "But as soon as we [have a letdown, reporters] are going to be right there on the cover saying, 'Ravens are all hype.' So I'm going to do my best not to give you no stories this year."

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