Whose 'D' Best?

How this season's defense stacks up against revered 2000 unit

Afc Divisional Playoff Round Ravens @ Titans

January 06, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The Ravens' defense didn't just force five turnovers in a 27-9 playoff win over the Miami Dolphins.

This ball-hawking group is also forcing the issue of where does it rank among the other great Ravens defenses.

The 2000 defense will go down as perhaps the best in NFL history because it set records and carried a team to a Super Bowl.

The 2008 defense isn't yet in that class, but it has separated itself with the ability to create turnovers and convert them into touchdowns.

So, where does this defense stand at this point?

"It's hard to say," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who was the defensive line coach in 2000. "Just wait until after the Super Bowl happens, then you can put us in historical perspective. Right now, we just know we're playing like Baltimore Ravens."

The defenses have their differences. The 2000 one worked out of a 4-3 alignment (four defensive linemen and three linebackers), and this year's defense is primarily a 3-4. This season's defense generates most of its pass rush from blitzes, and the 2000 one relied mostly on its front four.

If the 2008 defense has the edge over the Super Bowl one, it's because it makes interceptions and scores off them.

In 2000, the defense picked the ball off 23 times but scored only one touchdown in the regular season. Of course, that defense did run back two interceptions for touchdowns in the postseason.

But this season's defense has been doing that all season. The Ravens led the NFL with 26 interceptions in the regular season and scored six defensive touchdowns (five off interceptions and one off a fumble).

In Sunday's wild-card win at Miami, safety Ed Reed returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown.

"When they have an opportunity in front of them, they take advantage of it," tight end Todd Heap said of the defense. "There's a lot of individual talent on the defensive side of the ball, but they play as a team."


DE --Trevor Pryce vs. Rob Burnett

Both have a sagelike influence in the locker room. Burnett's crushing blow of Bengals quarterback Akili Smith still causes chills. Pryce, though, is an athletic freak and commands more attention from offenses.

Edge: Pryce (2008).

DT -- Haloti Ngata vs. Sam Adams

Ngata has more of an upside and has been more dependable. Adams was extremely temperamental (his teammates called him "Sybil" because of his mood swings). But during the 2000 season, Adams was the most disruptive inside force in football. Edge: Adams (2000).

DT -- Justin Bannan vs. Tony Siragusa

Siragusa was mostly known for his larger-than-life personality. That overshadowed his value on the field, where teams couldn't run against the Ravens because they couldn't budge Siragusa. Bannan has been the unsung hero on the 2008 defense, holding his own in replacing Kelly Gregg (season-ending knee injury). Edge: Siragusa (2000).

LB/DE -- Jarret Johnson vs. Michael McCrary

Both played with a relentless attitude. Johnson is a blue-collar worker who is one of the most versatile players on the defense. McCrary made more of an impact because of his tireless pursuit of quarterbacks.

Edge: McCrary (2000).

LB -- Terrell Suggs vs. Peter Boulware

Suggs is the more complete linebacker. He is also the more feared pass rusher. Suggs can get to quarterbacks with power and speed. Boulware was pure speed.

Edge: Suggs (2008).

LB -- Bart Scott vs. Jamie Sharper

Sharper was the most underrated player on that 2000 defense. He came into his own that season, forcing five fumbles and making one interception. Scott has had a solid season, but he hasn't changed games as a playmaker.

Edge: Sharper (2000).

LB -- Current Ray Lewis vs. Old Ray Lewis

Few linebackers will ever have the season Lewis put together in 2000. Where Lewis has improved is leadership. With Rod Woodson and a veteran defensive line, Lewis was an inspirational force in 2000. Now, he is the unquestioned general on the team. Edge: Old Ray (2000).

CB -- Fabian Washington vs. Chris McAlister

McAlister has seemingly been exiled off this year's defense, allowing Washington to become the biggest surprise on the team. The 2008 defense would be suffering if Washington hadn't stepped up and become the top cover man. Still, he isn't close to the level of play of McAlister in 2000. Edge: McAlister (2000).

CB -- Samari Rolle vs. Duane Starks

Starks had one of the best postseasons of any cornerback. But he struggled mightily at times in the regular season (see his early matchup against Jimmy Smith). Rolle has been consistent throughout the season despite playing with painful injuries.

Edge: Even.

SS -- Jim Leonhard vs. Kim Herring

Leonhard has more than adequately filled in for Dawan Landry (season-ending neck injury). The unheralded free-agent pickup has constantly popped up at the right times, whether it's an interception in the playoffs or a timely punt return. Herring was competent but he seemed invisible in 2000.

Edge: Leonhard (2008).

FS -- Ed Reed vs. Rod Woodson

Woodson was the calming veteran influence on the 2000 defense. He will go to the Hall of Fame, mainly based on his time as a cornerback. Reed is starting to make a convincing argument he is the best safety in NFL history. From athletic interceptions to unbelievable returns, he is in a league of his own. Edge: Reed (2008).

RAVENS (12-5) @TITANS (13-3)

AFC divisional round; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 1090 AM, 97.9 FM

Line: Titans by 3

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