Ragtag 'D' might not hold Ravens together

August 25, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

The good news is that right now, the Ravens have about six candidates for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The bad news is ... well, did you watch the game Saturday night? Or the one the week before?

The games against, respectively, the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings showed how indispensable those Ravens defenders are: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs up front, and Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle and Ed Reed in the secondary. That defense is such a shadow of its usual self without those guys, getting Suggs and Rolle back Saturday against the Rams barely made a difference. This really is a unit.

It's a disjointed unit, though. And if it were just a matter of all of them pacing themselves to be ready for the season opener, it wouldn't be worth sweating over. But who knows whether at least two of them, Reed and McAlister, will be, or when they will be, or how they'll truly be once they play?

For all of them, one can only hope their various ills will be resolved by the time the games start to count. But it just isn't clear whether they will. It is clear so far, though, that the Next Man Up hasn't stepped up in a lot of cases.

As defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said at halftime Saturday - not long after that 91-yard Rams touchdown drive, a beatdown rarely perpetrated against this team - "We don't care who is out there; we have to play like Ravens. We need to play faster and more physical. We let them stay on the field forever in the first half. That's not acceptable in the preseason, not acceptable ever."

Ryan had a similar reaction after the Vikings marched all over them. Again, no pressure up front, against the run or the pass, with the repercussions rippling to the back line, which was constantly overmatched. Poor Corey Ivy and Frank Walker don't deserve the constant de-pantsing they're getting. They're not starters, and they're getting no help in front of them and not a lot behind them.

Nor can you climb all over Suggs too much; he was largely invisible in limited action in his first post-holdout game, but he was fighting through traffic way more often than he usually is when opposing offenses have far more defenders to account for.

Suggs' evaluation of the defense, including himself: "It was subpar. ... It wasn't a performance that we are used to on the Ravens' side of the ball." The lone benefit, he added, was that the youngsters are getting valuable experience. And there were a lot of youngsters trying to make an impact, and doing fairly well, such as safeties Tom Zbikowski and Jim Leonhard and linebacker Antwan Barnes.

No one wants them to actually have to use that youth this season, though. Certainly not so early or often.

What makes all of this so much more urgent, of course, is what's going on with the other side of the ball. If everybody is in place on defense, it has a chance of keeping the season from going completely off the rails because of the offensive woes and the quarterback mess.

Going into the season with a depleted defensive line and secondary opens the door to a possible historically bad season.

Of course, if the injured players can't play, they can't play. Bad luck for them. Exceedingly bad luck for the entire defense, which is proving that the whole is nothing but the sum of its parts.

The more they sit out, the better Reed, McAlister, Ngata, Gregg and Co. look. MVP-quality, actually.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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