Great players have left, great defense remains

Great players have left, great defense remains
September 22, 2013, 7:00 pm

Ray Lewis speaks from heart during acceptance ceremony

BALTIMORE--Sunday was symbolic for the Ravens’ defense. 

Ray Lewis was honored, but he was in a suit-and-tie, not in uniform. Ed Reed was back in Baltimore, but he was playing for the other team.

Yet, the Ravens’ defense was superb, punishing the Texans in a 30-9 drubbing. The Lewis – Reed era is clearly over. However, the 2013 Ravens are moving on, and they are making a statement. Stellar defense is still being played in Baltimore.

“We feel like we can be a great defense,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “We’re still working towards that.”

The Ravens (2-1) have not allowed a touchdown the past two games. Their front seven has no obvious weaknesses. Their pass rush has been ferocious. The secondary looks markedly improved, with Matt Elam starting at safety, cornerback Lardarius Webb fully recovered from knee surgery, and cornerback Jimmy Smith playing the most consistent football of his young career.

The Texans came into Sunday’s game averaging 30.5 points and they had great field position in the first half. Yet, the Texans still couldn’t muster a touchdown. In the second half, they never made it past the Ravens’ 36-yard line.

That bodes extremely well for the Ravens moving forward, heading to Sunday’s road game against the Bills. The Ravens’ front seven is deep and talented. Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are proven pass rushers. The additions of defensive linemen Marcus Spears and Chris Canty have allowed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to do what he does best – wreck havoc inside.

Canty (groin) didn’t even play Sunday and Terrence Cody (knee sprain) left in the first half. But Arthur Jones, Spears and Ngata controlled the Texans’ offensive line, giving Arian Foster and Ben Tate little room to run.

That allowed the linebackers to make plays. Suggs and Dumevil rushed the passer with freedom. Daryl Smith had perhaps the game’s biggest play  - a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Ravens the lead for good.

If their secondary can eliminate big plays, the Ravens’ defense has found a formula they can win with consistently. Peyton Manning embarrassed the Ravens’ defense in Week 1. But instead of folding, the Ravens became more determined to find their defensive identity.

“Houston’s going to be one of those teams, when it’s all said and done, that’s going to be in the hunt,” said starting safety James Ihedigbo. “To do it against a team like this, will continue to set the bar higher for us.

“In the secondary, we know that if we want to go anywhere, win a championship again, whatever we want to do with this defense starts with us. We got to continue to play at a high level.”

This was an early-season measuring-stick game for the Ravens, and they measured up defensively. Their offense is still trying to find its rhythm. But defensively, the Ravens are silencing the critics who believe they have too many new pieces, and lost too many leaders, to be contenders again.

“We love them (Lewis and Reed), respect them, but we’re just trying to move on and let everybody know we can still be a great D,” Webb said.

“The show goes on,” Jones said. “It’s a new year, new team, and we’ve got some great guys who want to win. We’re going to keep building, keep rolling.”

After what the Ravens did Sunday, it was hard to argue. Reed plays safety for the Texans. Lewis is now in the Ravens Ring of Honor. But the team they left behind is proving it can still play defense.