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Why The Ravens Defense Is Playing Better


Head Coach John Harbaugh stressed that it would be a matter of when, not if, the Ravens defense would start playing up to its potential.

Well, over the third quarter of the season, that has come more to fruition.

Over the past four games, the Ravens defense has allowed the second-fewest total yards per game (257) and the fewest passing yards per game (164) in the NFL.

As a measuring stick, the Denver Broncos, who have the league's top defense this season, have allowed 285 total yards per game and 196 passing yards per game overall this season.

In the 15-13 loss in Miami, the Ravens surrendered just 82 passing yards to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his complement of talented targets. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was held to just two catches for 5 yards on five targets.

The Ravens defense only gave up one touchdown, and that came after starting on their own side of the field following Matt Schaub's first interception. On the next play, Dolphins first-round wide receiver DeVante Parker made a spectacular leaping catch for a 38-yard touchdown.

The defense isn't taking comfort in its recent string of good games, especially not after a loss.

"If we ain't winning games, it doesn't mean anything," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "No matter how bad we beat them, they still scored a touchdown and that touchdown ultimately cost us.

"Yeah, we've been playing better and we haven't given up a lot of big plays as of late. But, at the same time, we're still not winning games on defense and we believe we have the group to win games on defense. When we start doing that, you'll see more bravado from us."

Still, seeing the Ravens defense turn a corner has been quite welcomed.

Limiting the big plays has been a major reason. That's what Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was harping on for the first half of the season. Parker was the only Dolphins player to have a reception over 10 yards.

On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh gave his take on why the defense has improved.

"I see more disciplined play," he said. "We've had very few breakdowns in the back end. We've had a few, but very few compared to earlier in the year."

The improvements didn't stop there.

"I see better tackling. For the most part, I see really good tackling," Harbaugh said. "Our front is dominating upfront."

Harbaugh spent most of his answer talking about the Ravens' defensive effort. He complimented safety Kendrick Lewis on his hustle play in the fourth quarter, ending with what could have been a game-changing strip from behind.

Harbaugh began a system of handing out "effort stickers" in November. The stickers, which are placed above each players' locker are given out after coaches watch tape each week.

Harbaugh didn't say it was the stickers making an impact, but he has noticed an improvement.

"We are running to the football. That has gotten better every single week for about the last four or five weeks – say four weeks," Harbaugh said. "To me, when you run to the football with your hair on fire like your life depends on it, you have a chance to be a really good defense."

The Ravens now rank 14th in the league in total defense (341.4 yards per game), ninth in passing defense (243.9 yards per game) and 10th in rushing defense (97.5 yards per game).

Part of the reason for Baltimore's recent success may also have to do with the opponents it faced during the third quarter of the year.

The Ravens faced some of the league's best offenses early in the first half of the year with the Bengals (No. 8), Steelers (No. 2), Cardinals (No. 1) and Chargers (No. 6). The Jaguars (No. 18), Rams (No. 31), Browns (No. 26) and Dolphins (No. 29) haven't posed as much of a threat.

Baltimore's defense will have a tough feat down the stretch, beginning Sunday with the Seahawks, who have the NFL's seventh-ranked offense and are coming off a 38-7 dismantling of the Vikings. After a slow start, Seattle has averaged 34.5 points over its past four games.

"We have to keep practicing like we have been practicing, we have been working hard," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We have four games left and we just got to get ready for next week."

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