Stealing show

ON THE RAVENS

Defense's performance against Patriots

Unit looks much improved from '07

August 09, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

It was only the first preseason game, a 16-15 win against the New England Patriots, but it's easy to understand why Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was giddy afterward.

"I guess Fabian Washington was worth that fourth-rounder Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] gave up," Ryan said Thursday night.

It's a smug comment, especially since the Patriots played without quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker. New England was also pretty vanilla in the way it approached the game offensively and defensively.

But the Ravens showed a lot of depth defensively against the Patriots, something they lacked last season, especially in the secondary.

You can take only so much from the Patriots game, but overall, it was a good night for the Ravens defensively. They played without starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata.

One of the most pleasant aspects was the play of backup cornerbacks Washington and Frank Walker, both obtained in the offseason.

When McAlister and Rolle missed extensive playing time last season because of injuries, the Ravens basically had to change their defensive philosophy. Ryan likes to blitz and leave his cornerbacks one-on-one with receivers. But without McAlister and Rolle, the Ravens had no cornerbacks who specialized in press coverage.

Enter Walker and Washington.

Washington had two interceptions, two tackles and knocked down two passes Thursday night. Before being obtained by the Ravens, he had the reputation of being soft. But against the Patriots, he showed no fear of coming up and taking on Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who weighs 220 pounds compared with Washington's 180.

Walker talked a lot in training camp but had showed little. But when the lights came on Thursday, he played tough. He had only one tackle, but he was in position to make plays.

"Fabian had a big blitz and covered guys well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. " ... It was good to see. Frank too. We got two corners out there that are really essentially backup cornerbacks playing like starters, and that's huge for us."

The Ravens have made a habit of finding undersized but fast linebackers to fit into their scheme. Nick Greisen, who fills in for inside linebacker Ray Lewis, had five tackles, including a sack. Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes had only one tackle, but spent most of the night in New England's backfield. The second-year man will play plenty as a pass rusher on third down.

And then there is linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. He made a name for himself in the NFL by playing on special teams but wanted out of Chicago during the offseason because he wanted to play more on defense.

A week ago, outside linebackers coach Mike Pettine talked about Ayanbadejo and how they had put a package in for him to rush the quarterback. Ayanbadejo had nine tackles, including one sack, against the Patriots.

After last season, the Ravens were embarrassed after giving up 24 points a game. Before camp, a lot of them swore this season would be different. They said they were going to be the Ravens of old instead of a bunch of old Ravens.

At least Thursday night, they swarmed to the ball. They seemed a step faster than the Patriots. Of course, Ryan called a lot of blitzes, which many NFL coaches don't do early in the preseason. And this definitely wasn't the high-powered New England offense that was No. 1 last season.

But at this point, who cares? It's a lot better than if the Patriots had run over the Ravens. It seems as if the Ravens have found some answers to some problems from a year ago. If they had lost, there would be a few more problems today than possible answers.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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