New coordinator Chuck Pagano takes over a Ravens defense that closed out the 2010 season ranking 10th in yards allowed and third in points given up.
So, what does he need to do to make it a Super Bowl defense? Pagano says improve in "crunch time."
The Ravens surrendered nine leads in the fourth quarter this season, including three double-digit ones (10 points against Buffalo, 10 at New England and 15 at Houston).
In the final 35 seconds of games, the defense gave up three touchdowns and one field goal.
"We have to learn how to finish games as a football team," Pagano said. "And as a defense, if it's our job — no matter what the situation is — to go out there and put the fire out and get off the field and win a game, that's what we're going to do. And that's first and foremost with us. We're going to take a close look finishing at end of half, end of games, crunch time, fourth quarter."
The defense allowed 119 points in the fourth quarter, the second-most in team history (the 1996 defense gave up 130 points in the fourth quarter). It's a surprising development for the Ravens, who hadn't given up that many points in the fourth quarter in the first two seasons combined under coach John Harbaugh.
Some have suggested the age of the defense contributed to the issues late in games. The average age of the Ravens' starters on defense is 29, including four over 30 (linebacker Ray Lewis, nose tackle Kelly Gregg, safety Ed Reed and defensive end Cory Redding).
Asked how much Lewis has left, Pagano asked linebackers coach Dean Pees how many snaps the Pro Bowl linebacker played this season. Pees responded that Lewis played 1,111 snaps and missed five.
"And we chewed him out when he came out for that," Pagano said. "He's taken great care of his body and he understands that his body is his earning power and what's made him."
Others blamed the Ravens' preference to drop back more defenders into coverage in the fourth quarter instead of rushing the quarterback.
"On defense, you've got to be able to get that critical stop and get off the field," Harbaugh said. "It starts with coverage. When your corners can line up and cover — knock a ball out, not give up a slant, or something like that, in tight coverage, make a play, get a ball tipped, get an interception — that'll happen and then that dictates the pass rush."
Harbaugh estimated that the Ravens blitzed 50 to 60 percent of the time near the end of the season because the play of the cornerbacks improved.
"We covered a little better, so we blitzed more," Harbaugh said. "I think sometimes you've just got to cut it loose and blitz anyway. We tried that against Buffalo and it didn't work out very well. That ebb and flow was going on. But by the end of the year, I thought we were bringing it as much or more than anybody in the league."
Notes: Greg Mattison, who chose to go from being the defensive coordinator of the Ravens to the one for the University of Michigan, said he never thought he would leave the NFL for college. "I definitely wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for [new Michigan coach] Brady Hoke," Mattison told the school's website. "I was at a great situation, but when it became Michigan, and it became Brady Hoke, it was too hard to pass up. I'm glad; it's probably the best decision I've ever made, based on my feeling right now, being here." … According to ESPN, the Ravens submitted Pittsburgh's game-winning touchdown (a 2-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall) from the Jan. 15 divisional round playoff game to the NFL, saying Steelers tight end David Johnson should have been flagged for a false start. But the league backed referee Jeff Triplette's no-call because Johnson's flinch came just as the ball was being snapped. … Like the Associated Press All-Pro team, the Ravens also had three players — defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, safety Ed Reed and kicker Billy Cundiff — named to Pro Football Weekly's All-Pro team. Cundiff was named the Golden Toe winner for the NFL's best placekicker or punter. Tom Brady was selected as MVP and Clay Matthews as Defensive MVP.
A look at the most fourth-quarter points allowed in Ravens history: Year4Q ptsRecord19961304-12201011912-4*19991088-820041069-720021057-9
* -- Made playoffs