What Makes Ravens Defense So Good This Year?


The Ravens defense has been lights out this year.

The unit is ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed, and they have shut down opponents late in games when the Ravens have needed stops. Just last week in Jacksonville, the defense kept the Jaguars from scoring in the final six minutes despite a pair of interceptions from quarterback Joe Flacco in Ravens territory.

As the offense has worked to find its footing, the defense has been the team's foundation.

So what's been the biggest difference for the defense this year?

"The main thing is we're playing hard," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We're playing hard, and we're playing with discipline."

Players echoed Harbaugh's evaluation.

"I think right now, we are playing harder. That is the No. 1 thing," linebacker Zachary Orr said. "[Harbaugh] told us right away, 'If you aren't running to the football, you won't be on the 2016 Ravens defense.' That opened up a lot of eyes."

Effort isn't the only area where the Ravens have improved.

Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees pointed to the fact that the Ravens are faster, and have cut down on allowing big plays. That was a problem last season, particularly early in the year.

Outside of the 85-yard touchdown run by the Browns in Week 2, the Ravens have kept the ball in front of them. That's forced offenses to have to methodically drive down the field on long drives, which is always difficult.

"We haven't given up many big plays. That's been the key," Pees said. "This league can humble you in a heartbeat on a couple of plays. That's the thing that we have to do is just keep the ball inside in front of us on both run and pass."

When asked why the Ravens have cut down on the big plays, Pees and several players brought up communication. The team made changes this offseason to improve the chain of communication throughout the defense – one change was moving Pees down to the sideline instead of the coaching booth – and the tweaks have paid dividends.

"We spent a lot of time in the offseason really looking at everything we did on defense and saying, 'What can we clean up here to make the communication easier?'" Pees said. "There's less communication that you have to make than maybe what we had in the past in some ways."

The other common theme within communication is the addition of safety Eric Weddle. The 10-year veteran has transformed the back end of the defense, and his experience gives the Ravens the kind of proven leader they have wanted in that spot since Ed Reed left.

Weddle always seems to be in the right spot, and he makes sure everyone else is as well.

"In the heat of battle, it is great to have someone like that who can remind you of little tips that the offense likes to do," Orr said. "It has been great, and we love having him back there. It doesn't hurt that he is a playmaker as well."

Getting players in the right spot has also led to turnover opportunities. Just three games into the season, Baltimore's five interceptions almost matches last year's total (six). 

Linebacker C.J. Mosley leads the way with two interceptions.

"Really what it is, we're doing our job," Mosley said. "We're getting in the right position, doing the right drops, and everybody is making the right reads. When you run to the ball, those kinds of plays happen."

As good as the Ravens defense has looked, they're in store for a real test Sunday against Oakland. The Raiders have the second-ranked offense in the league (436 yards per game), and they have big-play receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

The Raiders offense also had a huge game against the Ravens last season, putting up 448 yards and 37 points. Cooper and Crabtree both topped 100 receiving yards, and quarterback Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three scores.

Oakland is off to a hot start again this year, and Sunday's meeting at M&T Bank Stadium will give the Ravens a sense of where they stack up against another potent attack.

"It's a big test for us," safety Lardarius Webb said. "Last year, they beat us. They played a good game. This is one of the teams we have to look out for, because they're coming up in the AFC."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content