Sep 19, 2012
The fear factor seems to have vanished from the Baltimore Ravens' defense.
They rank 27th in the NFL in total defense after finishing third last season.
In two games, the Ravens have allowed 808 yards of total offense and surrendered an average of 5.6 yards per play.
“That's horrible, I take offense to where we are after two games,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “It's not acceptable to give up that many yards in any facet of the game. I think teams still respect us, but we can't expect to just show up and teams will respect that. We have to strike fear in guys' hearts.”
Playing without NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs due to a torn right Achilles' tendon, Baltimore is ranked 20th against the run, 26th against the pass.
Running backs Benjarvus Green-Ellis LeSean McCoy have combined for 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns against them.
“They're not as intimidating as they used to be,” former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann said. “Ray Lewis is a year older, Ed Reed is a year older. Lardarius Webb is playing terrific football, he's stepped up, but 'Sizzle' is the kind of guy you don't replace. He's an elite individual. The defense isn't the same and it's not going to be.”
Although the Ravens still excel at forcing turnovers with three interceptions and three forced fumbles, rank sixth in points allowed and seventh in red-zone defense, this is far below their usual standard.
As far as Reed is concerned, it's time for a call to arms.
“Like I told the guys, we need to tighten up,” Reed said. “We need to get better like we plan to. We've given up a lot of yards on the ground and in the air. We've talked about it long enough. It's time for us to play ball and correct the little things that we know we can correct. It's just a matter of transferring it onto the football field.”
The task doesn't get easier Sunday in an AFC title game rematch. Led by star quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots rank sixth offensively and are coming off an upset loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
“They look the same to me,” Brady said regarding the Ravens' defense. “They're fast, they're tough. They're very instinctive. You don't fool this team very often. The yards you make, you have to earn. They're trying to play physical and intimidate you, and they do it, and they get the ball.”
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick piled up 405 yards of total offense and two touchdowns against Baltimore during a 24-23 win. Vick was only sacked twice, and hit tight end Brent Celek eight times for 157 yards.
The Ravens have finished in the top 10 in total defense for nine consecutive seasons, ranking only below the Steelers (12 years) for the longest active streak in the NFL.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“At the end of the year is when you always pay attention to stats,” Lewis said. “That's why when people talk about our defense, we always say: 'Find us at the end of the year,' and you know what we're going to be.”