Extra work by the Ravens' secondary has led to an increase in interceptions and some more housework for cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
Once a week, the defensive backs have met at Foxworth's home for a couple of hours of film study. They bring their own food - from Taco Bell to the Cheesecake Factory - and talk about recognizing tendencies and playing certain coverages.
By the end of the night, the players leave with a boost in confidence, but they also leave a mess.
"They don't clean up after themselves, which is a problem," said Foxworth, whose Ravens play the Chicago Bears at 4:15 p.m. today at M&T Bank Stadium. "I have to vacuum up and scrub stains out after they leave."
That's been the price to pay for the secondary to clean up its play on the field. One of the reasons the Ravens are in the hunt for a playoff berth is their improved pass defense.
After making seven interceptions in their first eight games, the Ravens have picked off nine passes the past five weeks. Forcing turnovers is a priority against Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who leads the NFL with 22 interceptions.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh explained that the spike in interceptions has been the result of more pressure on the quarterback. Others believe it has been good fortune.
But the defensive backs point to the communication and the continuity that has developed from the meetings at Foxworth's house.
"Early in the season, when we're out in the cold and everyone was saying how awful we were, we decided that we needed to do something to raise our game," Foxworth said. "I have to go back and figure out when we first started, but it seems like as a whole, the secondary has been steadily improving. It's not all because of [getting together to watch film], but I definitely think it has something to do with that."
The rough start for the secondary shouldn't have come as a surprise because of the offseason overhaul.
Foxworth was signed as a free agent to be the team's top cornerback. Chris Carr was added later as the new nickel back. Lardarius Webb was drafted in the third round. Even safety Dawan Landry, who had started previously, had a transitional period because he missed the last 14 regular-season games last season with a spinal cord concussion.
The unit's growing pains were nearly unbearable. After the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre became the third straight quarterback to throw for more than 250 yards against the Ravens, their pass defense had sunk to No. 26 in the NFL.
"A lot of times earlier in the season, when we weren't necessarily playing up to our capability, teams were just making the plays and we weren't," Carr said. "It wasn't the lack of film study or effort. Everybody's been battling all season. It just seems like now we're reaping what we've been sowing."
Over the past seven games, the Ravens have limited quarterbacks to an average of 135 passing yards per game. Only once during that stretch have the Ravens given up more than one passing touchdown.
The Ravens' pass defense is now 11th in the NFL, the team's highest ranking since the second week of the season.
"You don't work as hard as they've worked and not improve," said coordinator Greg Mattison, whose defense has been the NFL's stingiest the past seven games (an average of 12.6 points allowed). "Everybody in America can see when [the defensive backs] make a mistake. They're under the microscope all the time. Their resiliency, the way they have come out every day and worked, is why I'm so proud of them."
Carr, who has played for the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, said the Ravens are prepared because they watch more film than any of his previous teams.
"Besides the quarterback, the secondary needs to watch the most film," he said. "The hardest thing to do in the NFL is to cover somebody one-on-one."
That's why it is important for defensive backs to trust one another. One key to a successful pass defense is teammates relying on one another to be in the right position.
It has been a remarkable run the past two months considering that cornerback Fabian Washington (knee) is out for the season and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (groin and foot) has missed the past two games.
The Ravens have maintained cohesion with their replacements (Webb at cornerback and Tom Zbikowski at safety) because members of the secondary enjoy being around one another, whether it's on the field or at Foxworth's house.
"When you're playing, [that friendship] makes you play that much harder," said Zbikowski, who could start his third straight game because Reed is listed as questionable. "I'm not going to let this guy down if I tell him that's where I'm going to be."