Since being blasted by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 1, the Ravens secondary has been awful good instead of just awful.
In the season-opening 49-27 loss, Baltimore was burned for one big play after another, letting Manning throw for 445 yards while matching an NFL record with seven touchdown passes.
The unit went into lockdown mode over the following four games. The Ravens head into this week’s visit from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers having held opponents to 195.8 passing yards per game and just two touchdowns through the air during a 3-1 stretch.
A pass defense that was the worst in the NFL after the first contest is up to 16th in the league, allowing 245.6 yards per game. The 195.8 average would be fourth-best in the league.
In what ways has the Baltimore defensive backfield improved?
“All across the board - communication, technique, skills, tackling,” safety James Ihedigbo said. “We’ve just got to continue to play the ball in the air and big plays will come. We’ll do that and that’s what we’re looking to do this week.”
Cornerback Corey Graham also pointed to communication as the main reason the secondary is defending better.
“I would like to say every week, we’re getting better and better with the communication,” Graham said. “Guys are getting on the same page, knowing where guys are going to be at. The more you play together, the better it’s going to be and I think since Week 1, guys communicate a lot better and pretty much have been on the same page.”
Cornerback Jimmy Smith expressed that part of the reason the defensive backs are playing better is the Ravens’ pass rush.
Baltimore ranks second in the NFL with 19 sacks through five games and the quarterback pressure has been a constant from the start of the year.
“It’s like our best friend right now,” Smith said. “Once we can sic our dogs on them, it’s heaven for defensive backs, because we’re just waiting for the ball to fly out. We’re running with our backs down to the ball, and you hear big cheers that we just got a sack. They’re doing really good right now.”
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees hasn’t seen all butterflies and rainbows. The Ravens have limited the long plays, but are still giving up some big gains.
He said the most basic football fundamental is the one which always needs to be worked on, and led to the poor performance in Denver.
“We’ve obviously improved,” Pees said Thursday. “The biggest thing about the first game was tackling and then if you really think back on the plays, Denver really broke the big plays, we missed some tackles and we gave them some really great opportunities. And you look then a couple weeks later in the Houston game, (we were better) because we tackled well. Last week, we gave up a couple more on leverage issues than on tackling issues. I think one was a tackle, and we also let the quarterback out of the pocket and scramble on a pressure, and that’s always a problem when you’re in man coverage back there.
“So I think it’s improved a lot in certain areas. There’s certainly a lot of improvement still to be made. We’ve got to do a great job of tackling, and run after catch is always a key thing. And then the biggest thing about this (week’s) game, just like any game, is going to be big plays. When we haven’t given up big plays, we’ve played extremely well. You give up big plays - even though I think we played well against Miami, we still gave up a couple big plays that we just cannot give up to this group.”
It’s one thing to shut down the likes of Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. It’s another to contain Rodgers. The Packers rank third in the league in total offense and fourth in passing, so it should be the Ravens’ biggest challenge since Manning dismantled them.
This week’s game should help Baltimore measure its progress.
“A good gauge,” Graham said. “We’re playing against a good quarterback. Aaron Rodgers can make all the throws. He’s got a great group of receivers, their offense has done a great job and it’s going to be a good game.”