Behind Enemy Lines: Ravens' 'D' aging

offense hasn't clicked

December 15, 2010|By Nakia Hogan | The TImes-Picayune

The Baltimore Ravens, while still one of the NFL's elite teams, have had their share of problems this season.

Their defense is aging. Their offense hasn't quite clicked. Even their guile and championship pedigree sometimes has been questioned.

That hasn't been enough, however, to count the Ravens (9-4) out of championship conversations, because even in defeat, they have been competitive.

In fact, the Ravens' four losses have been by a combined 14 points. And in each defeat, Baltimore has had a fourth-quarter lead.

The trend nearly repeated itself in Monday night's 34-28 overtime win against the Houston Texans when the Ravens blew a 28-13 lead in the final six minutes.

While the Ravens were happy to get the win, staying one game behind the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh, their games have been a little too close for comfort.

Ravens offense

The Ravens added some pieces to their offense this past offeseason, but the unit is still a work in progress. The additions of receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth were expected to make the Ravens more explosive.

But that hasn't been the case, as the Ravens have only made small steps in becoming a more rounded unit.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is the catalyst of the NFL's 18th-ranked offense. He has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards, with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

His line has struggled at times with protections, allowing 32 sacks.

Ray Rice is the Ravens' top rusher, having gained 898 yards and three touchdowns. He also is a weapon out of the backfield with 57 receptions.

As for the additions at receiver, Boldin has had the biggest impact, catching a team-high 59 passes for 811 yards and seven touchdowns.

Veteran Derrick Mason remains a reliable target, as he has 53 catches for 676 yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Todd Heap, who missed Monday's game with a thigh injury, is a threat in the red zone with 37 catches for 546 yards and five scores.

Ravens defense

Always the strength of the Ravens, their defense again is playing at a high level, ranking fourth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 17.6 points a game.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, an 11-time Pro Bowler, is the leader. At 35, he's still able to make plays from sideline to sideline, although he may be a step slower. Lewis leads the Ravens with 117 tackles. He also has two sacks and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Like Lewis, former Destrehan standout Ed Reed still is one of the NFL's elite defenders. The free safety has four interceptions this season, bringing his career total to 50.

The Ravens have allowed three players to rush for 100 yards or more this season, while turning in the league's eighth best run defense, yielding 98.8 yards a game.

Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata has been stout against both the run and the pass, totaling 57 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

Perhaps the best way to attack the Ravens defense is through the air. The Ravens rank a respectable 14th in the league in pass defense. But outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been a terror for opposing quarterbacks with 10 sacks.

Ravens special teams

Rookie David Reed has enjoyed a fine season as the Ravens' kickoff returner. His finest moment came in Monday's win against the Texans when he brought back the opening kickoff of the second half 103 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest kickoff return in Ravens history. Reed leads the NFL at 29.9 yards per return average.

Kicker Billy Cundiff has made 19 of 22 kicks with a long of 49 yards. Punter San Koch averages 43.4 yards an attempt.

Last time they met

Oct. 29, 2006

Ravens quarterback Steve McNair passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Ravens ended a two-game losing streak in beating the Saints at the Superdome. The Ravens' defense was dominant as well, scoring two touchdowns on a pair of 12-yard interception returns by Louisiana natives Ronnie Prude (Shreveport) and Dawan Landry (Hahnville). Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns, but his interceptions were costly.

Worth repeating

"We know that's the defending champs. We'll be waiting on them. It's football. When the ref blows the whistle, guess what, a new game starts. Sixty minutes. It's going to be one of those shootouts next weekend, and I think we're up for it." -- Ray Lewis

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