As Jamaal Charles ran out of running room and the Ravens’ defense began to resemble the stifling unit that has allowed the NFL’s second-fewest yards since 2000, the second half of last Sunday’s 9-6 win over the Chiefs might’ve marked a turning point.
Without centerpiece Terrell Suggs and with aging key components on defense, Baltimore has allowed yards at an alarming clip entering Sunday’s visit from the Dallas Cowboys, tumbling from third in total defense in 2011 to 24th this season.
But the Ravens’ last two quarters against the Chiefs had a different feel. The three points afforded to Kansas City in each half was impressive enough, but turning around to hold the Chiefs to 35 rushing yards on 16 carries was a significant improvement over the 179 yards allowed on the ground before halftime.
“Thank goodness, we had a couple other things up our sleeve in the second half,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees told reporters this week. “What we did is we really made a very slight adjustment. It was not a big adjustment. The biggest thing that we got settled down at halftime was going out and playing technique: ‘Here is what they are doing to you, and this is why it’s happening.’
“A little bit of it is the fact that knowledge can be a good thing, and you can use it, and sometimes you can abuse it. We had some good knowledge on them in the running game, and unfortunately sometimes we overplayed that knowledge. When you overplay it, something bad happens to you somewhere else. If I tell you, ‘OK, the ball is going to be run to the right,’ if the whole defense runs to the right, there’s a chance he might cut back to the left, and somebody better be back there. We did a little bit of that in the first half. In the second half, we played much better fundamentally. We made a couple of adjustments at halftime, which were not big, but little and subtle, and it was effective.”
And despite allowing 379.8 yards per game, the Ravens are 4-1 - a game ahead of the Bengals and two in front of the Steelers atop the AFC North.
No matter how many yards the Ravens are permitting or the cause of it - whether it be a missing Suggs or an aging Ray Lewis - the players are content with where they are.
“What impresses me is having my team ready to play every week to come out and get a W,” Lewis told reporters. “For us to be where we are right now, I am really excited, because we’re just fine-tuning where we’re going. Nobody is talking about the schedule that we had to go through the first five weeks. But that schedule, I don’t know too many teams that pull that off. But for us to pull that off, and then come out of that with a 4-1 record, I think is just awesome with how much better we can get. I think that’s the biggest thing that I worry about when you talk about personal play.”
Today, the Ravens’ defense will be looking to get on track against a 2-2 Cowboys team that has had some offensive issues of its own.
While Tony Romo has Dallas ranked fourth in the NFL in passing offense, the team ranks 16th in total yards, 29th in rushing and 30th in points per game (16.3).
The Ravens’ forte has been limiting opponents’ scoring, as they rank seventh in the NFL with 17.8 points allowed per game. If season trends continue, the Cowboys could be in a lot of trouble because this one pits a turnover-prone offense looking to find its way against a takeaway-happy defense that hopes it found itself a week ago.
Pees is pleased with his unit’s ability to force turnovers, which have negated some of the yards it has allowed.
“When teams are tough and fly to the football, they get turnovers,” he told reporters. “If you are hustling to the ball, and you are tough and you are hitting hard, the ball is coming out. That’s the key thing, is when you watch teams that really are good at getting turnovers, there are a lot of guys around the football.”
Baltimore also returns to town for its lone game at M&T Bank Stadium this month, looking to extend the longest home winning streak in the NFL. The Ravens have won 13 straight home games and 21 of their last 22.
This week, Coach John Harbaugh commented on a story that called M&T Bank Stadium the best home-field advantage in the league.
“I’ve been saying that for years,” he told reporters. “Finally, everybody else caught up with that. It’s nice to see that the rest of the country is on board with Baltimore. I think we all know that. It’s just a phenomenal place. Just love our fans. Our players love our fans. It’s a great football town.”
During their 13-game home winning streak, the Ravens have outscored opponents 360-209, averaged 27.7 points per game while allowing just 16.1 and posted a plus-13 turnover ratio.
Quite a recipe for success. On top of that, Baltimore is 24-5-1 against the NFC all-time at home. So the Ravens have that in their favor heading into Sunday.
So if they can keep the streak going, they’ll win their fourth straight game overall to improve to 5-1 for the first time under Harbaugh and second time in team history.
Harbaugh knows that won’t come easily against Dallas.
“Dallas is just a very talented, well-coached football team,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve got playmakers on offense. Obviously, Tony Romo is a guy that can get hot at any time. He’s done it so many times. I’ve been on the field with him and seen him make some uncanny plays. (Jason) Witten is back to playing probably at his level now that we’re accustomed to - coming off the spleen injury.
“(They have) a big, physical offensive line, obviously, two speed backs, two guys who can really run. Dez Bryant is a very talented guy; you know about him. But Miles Austin, this guy has been making plays for the last four years. He’s just been making plays all over the field, and (Kevin) Ogletree is coming on. They’ve just got a lot of good players.”