CAN WE GET A BREAK AGAINST A NON-ELITE DEFENSE
Is it me, or do we seem to face a tough defense every week?
We started the season battling a Steelers defense that is currently ranked as the league's best (yardage). In Game 2, we squared off against the Titans' eighth-ranked pass defense. Can't whine about the Rams and our 37 points scored reflects that.
A week later, it was Rex Ryan and company. They're pretty good on defense, especially the pass. Last Sunday, it was the Texans who rode into Baltimore with the league's seventh-best defense. And, this Monday at Jacksonville…well, the Jaguars are eighth best. (The Ravens, by the way, are currently third in the NFL, but first in fewest points allowed.)
I know we're not supposed to look beyond this game, but I am aware that we will face top 10 defenses in seven of our last 12 games. Amazingly, all four teams in the AFC North are in this elite group. Pittsburgh, as noted, is first; the Bengals are second, while the Browns are seventh. Six of our last 12 games are played against teams with pass defenses rated in the top 10.
Tough road indeed. But, as Coach John Harbaugh often tells his players, we're just the men to get it done.
Right now, the Ravens' offense is 14th in the league in yards per game. Importantly, we're averaging 29.6 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL. Only Green Bay (32.8), Buffalo (31.3), New England (30.8) and Detroit (29.7) are better. On the whole, we've played better defenses than those teams have encountered.
What excites me is that our offense will get better. I'm just sayin', If we can get Lee Evans and Ben Grubbs back – well, they are two of our best players. We can all see rookie receiver Torrey Smith grow before our eyes. WR David Reed is coming back after a shoulder injury. The offensive line has only played together five games – ever. They're going to get better. My gut tells me we won't be just bragging about our defense by the end of the season…no matter what type of defenses we face. As the former Ravens linebacker playing for the Jets likes to say: "Can't wait!"
You usually have good "team chemistry" when you win. Winning is a magic elixir. But, as I've sensed since mid-training camp, there's something about this team that is special.
They like each other. That includes players and coaches. They are having fun.
Don't get me wrong, we haven't gone soft and Taylor Swifty on you. We are a tough, aggressive – some would even say mean – team. We go after opponents. We are physical and we try to bully opponents in this very tough, body-on-body sport. Coaches who play against us preach to their players: "We have to match the Ravens' physicality, or they'll run us out of the stadium."
That's who the Ravens are. We back down from no player or team. We are macho. Our opponents know what they are getting into when they face us.
But, I am seeing signs all the time about how this group enjoys each other, has fun with one another, – and protects one another. Coaches protect players and vice versa. As Coach Harbaugh says, "We have each other's back."
How about Terrell Suggs defending Joe Flacco on ESPN on Tuesday? Many of you saw this already, and we ran it in Sarah Ellison's "Late For Work" on Tuesday. Here it is again.
Not only did "Sizzle" defend Joe, he threw out stats to back up his claim. I yelled at the television: "Tell him, Terrell! Way to step up for your teammate!"
On the same day, I read an article about our safety Bernard Pollard that quoted him: "I play for my teammates; they helped me when I got here. I have their backs." In the same paper (The Baltimore Sun), our corner Danny Gorrer, who had the excellent coverage in the fourth quarter of the win over the Texans – the first down that was overturned on Coach Harbaugh's challenge – said: "I have to make plays. I can't let my teammates down."
The next day, I saw this quote from Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano: "The one thing you don't have to talk to our players about is studying, or working hard in practice, or playing hard. Or running to the football. That's just how we roll. That leaves you a lot of time to coach."
All of this makes me proud to be a Raven. Proud to see this team play for each other – play for us at a high, intense level.
ANOTHER GOOD BACK TO PLAY AGAINST US
Just like facing good defenses, it seems like we face a Pro Bowl-type back each week. This Monday, it's the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew. As you Fantasy Footballers know, MJD is excellent. Let's see how we've fared against the elite backs so far this season:
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers - 45 rushing yards
As Ray Lewis says: "That's what we do." As Coach Pagano says: "That's how we roll."
And speaking of Mr. Lewis … I was driving in north Baltimore County early Tuesday evening. I was on the back roads on my way home. I got to a busy intersection, and I was about seventh in line to make a left turn onto a busier road. I noticed a big guy on a bike waiting to cross to the road I'm on.
When I finally reach the intersection to make the turn, the guy on the bike yells, "Hey Kevin," and he waved. It was Ray Lewis. On his day off – and I know he had visited a family with a very sick relative that afternoon – Ray was getting an extra workout in. He was at least 15 miles from his house, and he was riding farther away. Impressive.
That's the way Ray rolls. Now, let's have the Ravens roll in Jacksonville. Let's beat the Jaguars.
Talk with you next week.
***Kevin Byrne** *, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.