Ravens building around stingy run defense

As they have in the past, the Ravens take pride in gritty effort at line of scrimmage

October 17, 2011|Mike Preston

Each week, the Ravens keep adding another name to a list that already includes Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, St. Louis's Steven Jackson and Houston's Arian Foster.

The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 2011. Next up is Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, who hasn't played against a run defense like the Ravens.

They're No. 3 in the NFL, allowing only 76.6 yards per game, and they're only going to get better.

"One thing you do see and something that we speak very high on [is] 'Beat your man,'" said Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis. "That's it. Sometimes, there is no blueprint out of that."

It all starts with Lewis. Despite being in his 16th season, he still runs tackle to tackle as well as any inside linebacker in the NFL because the defensive line does a good job of occupying blockers, and keeping them off of him.

If they do get to him, Lewis is very artful at dodging and slipping blocks. Very few teams get good, clean shots on Lewis. It also helps that Lewis has a 330 pound bodyguard in front of him named Haloti Ngata, who isn't just the best tackle in the league but possibly the best defensive player.

Lewis leads the team in tackles with 42, and Ngata has 21, tied for fourth with safety Ed Reed. But what makes this defense really good is the play of unheralded players such as end Cory Redding, tackles Terrence Cody and Brandon McKinney and strong side outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

To be this good, a defense has to be unselfish, disciplined and intimidating. If there is one imposing picture, it has to be the backsides of Ngata, Cody and McKinney lined up in a short yardage situation. Talk about space eaters. There is no room for daylight.

Cody, in his second year out of Alabama, is just starting to come into his own. After shedding considerable weight during the off season, he appears to be having fun. Against the Houston Texans Sunday he did three barrel rolls after making a tackle. His short-yardage, one-arm tackle of Foster was sensational and bone-rattling.

It's no longer a stretch to one day soon — possibly by the end of the season— start comparing Cody and Ngata with the Ravens' other legendary pair of tackles, Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa. The girth is certainly there, and so is the quickness and athleticism.

Another key, though, is the strong run support from cornerbacks Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb. They won't back down because they have no fear. Webb is second on the team in tackles with 34, and Williams is No. 3 with 28.

"We have a very good tackling team," said Lewis. "We don't let one person just make the tackle. We like seeing people get to the football. And coaches don't have to coach that. And I think that that's the beauty of our team: coaches don't have to coach any of that."

"If we see somebody isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing — if you're out of shape — we're going to get you extra conditioning during practice and things like that. I think you really have to tip your hat off to our defense, that we're really just playing very aggressive run defense."

The Ravens have prided themselves on run defense since their championship run in 2000-01. Along the front seven, it's extremely important to always stay on your feet.

Cody struggled staying up earlier in the season. There wasn't any problem Sunday when the Ravens held the Texans to 93 yards rushing, 49 by Foster on 15 attempts.

That's why the Ravens are doing a lot of smiling these days. Last season, Foster led the NFL in rushing with 1,616 yards. The Ravens want to keep building.

"It was tough," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of shutting down Foster. "The biggest thing is that we didn't get cut off a lot. A couple of times when he had his run, we got cut on the back side, which is what they do. That's what their whole scheme is predicated on. We held edges, for the most part. I think, except for one run, we held all the edges. Then, we didn't get knocked back most of the game. That's the top running team in the league last year, so I think it's a big thing."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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