One of the biggest obstacles facing the Ravens this season was the seemingly impossible task of replacing two of the franchises’ most electric and passionate leaders in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.
Both Lewis and Reed were fixtures in Baltimore’s defensive unit for more than a decade, but neither returned to Charm City for the 2013 season. Their departures meant losing two all-time greats, but it also meant the emergence of new leaders for the purple and black. And while Terrell Suggs has anchored the Ravens linebacking corps on the front line, the secondary has used a collection of players to pick up right where it left off during the Super Bowl run in 2012.
Sunday’s 20-17 overtime win against the Bengals was no exception.
“Our secondary played tremendously well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Everybody is going to talk about the (Hail Mary) play, which is a shame some ways. Maybe you will talk about the whole game. I thought the pressure was very good, but our secondary covered a very talented and gifted receiving corps all day.”
That was certainly the case in the first half. Cincinnati was held to just 47 yards through the air on eight completions, while Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tested the Ravens’ back seven with 21 attempts in the opening 30 minutes.
It was not until the final quarter that Baltimore’s secondary began to give way, though understandably so against the likes of Marvin Jones and A.J. Green. The Ravens watched a 17-0 lead fizzle away and Green tally 151 yards on eight catches, though 51 of those came on the final play of regulation, which saw Dalton toss a Hail Mary throw into the end zone, where it was tipped and hauled in by the All-Pro pass catcher.
It was the lone blemish on an otherwise dominant day for a secondary that forced three interceptions, the 10th time they’ve done so under Harbaugh.
“We just practiced so hard this week,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “The guys kind of got together to say what we needed to do. We have to play great as a defense if we want to get back on track. And today, from the D-line with all the pressure and the turnovers; we played great as a defense as a whole.”
One guy who stood out in the secondary was veteran strong safety James Ihedigbo. The hard-hitting safety was a nuisance against the Bengals offense, making play after play and snagging his first two career interceptions. Even after tipping the ball to Green on the Hail Mary fiasco, Ihedigbo regrouped and was a key factor in the pursuit of Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard on a fourth-down play in overtime.
It’s been a season of change for the Ravens, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But as the season moves into its second half, it’s yet another reason why no matter who lines up for the Ravens on the defensive side of the ball, points - and wins - are going to be hard to come by.
“It’s a hunger,” Ihedigbo said. “You’ve got to want more. You can never be satisfied. You can’t really ever get complacent on the field. You want to be the guy to make the play.”