Torn to shreds by both opposing offenses and the media all the way through the bye week, the Ravens’ defense has taken a considerable leap during the team’s four-game winning streak.
Since coming back from the bye on Nov. 4, Baltimore has allowed an NFL-best 14.5 points per game. The Ravens have also limited foes to 309 yards or fewer in three of the last four, keeping San Diego and Cleveland to less than 300 during that stretch.
The improvement has primarily coincided with the return of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who made his 2012 debut the week before the bye - the first game the team was without linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb because of major injuries.
That has coach John Harbaugh impressed - and for good reason.
“Congratulations to those guys,” Harbaugh said. “Our players and coaches have done a great job. I’d start with Dean Pees and the coaches on defense. We’re committed to fundamental football - that’s what we’re committed to. We have a great scheme package. We do some really, really great things. I think they do a good job every week of adjusting. We’ve put some packages together that have put guys in position to do the things they do best.
“But to me, that’s peripheral to the fact that we’re attacking the line of scrimmage better, we’re taking on blocks better, we’re tackling much better, our underneath coverage is much more disciplined and the eyes in the back end are getting better and better every week. We’re just playing better football. Yes, we’ve gotten some guys healthy and those kinds of things, but we’ve also gotten some other guys hurt. So it’s just a group of guys - players and coaches - that are working really hard to improve.”
The Ravens put together their best defensive performance of the season in Sunday’s win over the Chargers, permitting a season-low 280 yards in a game that lasted almost five quarters. They also sacked Phillip Rivers six times, surpassing their previous season best by two.
“Defensively, we played pretty well throughout, but as the game went along, we got better on defense,” Harbaugh said. “We tackled better. We defended better. We pressured better, but we pressured pretty well throughout the whole game. We are improving on defense, and we improved throughout the course of the game.”
The defense has improved in all facets. Stopping the pass has gotten better lately, allowing fewer than 200 yards through the air in three of the last four contests with more pressure on the quarterback a factor.
The ground defense has also taken a big step toward looking like a traditional Ravens run-stuffing unit. Since surrendering 622 rushing yards over the three games before the bye, Baltimore hasn’t permitted more than 134 yards via the run in the last four contests, twice holding teams under 100 yards.
The likes of linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Arthur Jones have helped make that happen. Kruger is having a terrific season with 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks, an interception and five passes defended. Jones had two sacks Sunday and has made nine tackles over the last two games.
Plenty of reason to be positive about the defense even though it still ranks 24th in the NFL. It’s on the rise and will need to keep climbing Sunday against the Steelers.