The Ravens' Achilles heel for much of last season was their propensity to allow big plays through the air.
The defensive backs allowed six passing plays of at least 50 yards in 2009, and were flagged for countless pass interference penalties (the Ravens led the league in that department).
No lead ever seemed safe, largely because the opposing team seemingly could strike deep down the field at any time.
Think back to Frank Walker mugging Sidney Rice in coverage in that Vikings game midseason and Rice still making two huge plays. Think back to big receivers like Vincent Jackson and the late Chris Henry bodying up on the Ravens' smaller defensive backs and coming down with big gains.
Hope those thoughts don't make you sick to your stomach.
This season, those issues haven't played a factor.
The Ravens have allowed just one passing play of at least 50 yards this season, and their pass interference penalties have been dramatically reduced.
The defensive backs are playing with much better technique, the pass rush has improved - which always helps the guys covering on the back end - and everyone in the secondary seems to be playing with more confidence.
"If your corners play the way our corners play, that gives Ed Reed a chance to do the things he does so well on the back end," head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the win over Cleveland yesterday. "It allows him to free up because he trusts those guys. That's been the key, you've seen in the last four, five, six weeks, the corners keep getting better and it's been a big key for us."
The one play that stood out to me yesterday was when cornerback Josh Wilson was matched up against former Ravens wide receiver Demetrius Williams (weird seeing him in a Browns jersey yesterday) as Williams ran a go-route down the right sideline.
Williams has about five inches on the 5-foot-9 Wilson, but the Ravens cornerback played the deep route perfectly, getting good position on Williams, leaping at the perfect time and making sure the receiver couldn't bring the ball in.
They've been physical, but they haven't drawn penalties. All three are smaller than most of the receivers they're covering, but they're using their speed to keep them in plays and allow them to make up ground if they get juked out and lose a step.
The Ravens defense is by no means perfect, as we're well aware.
But if the guys in the secondary can keep avoiding the big plays and the silly pass interference penalties, this group will be much better off than they were entering the playoffs last year.