Harbaugh says defense must rule Ravens' roost

Harbaugh says defense must rule Ravens' roost
September 15, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Pass rush makes biggest difference vs. Browns

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s the big picture. The Ravens’ defense may have to carry this team.

That may sound funny, considering the Ravens gave up 49 points in Week 1. But what the Ravens did Sunday defensively is more indicative of what they are capable of. The pass rush was superb, getting five sacks and pressuring Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden all day. Even against the Broncos, the Ravens sacked Peyton Manning three times.

No, the Browns didn’t offer much offensively other than running back Trent Richardson. However, the Ravens’ pass rush is legit. They envisioned getting this kind of pressure on quarterbacks when they signed Elvis Dumervil to bookend with Terrell Suggs, signed linebacker Daryl Smith to help anchor the inside, and signed Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to help Haloti Ngata up front.

The Ravens’ front seven is solid, loaded with proven players. And that ferocious pass rush can camouflage a number of weaknesses.

“We have a chance to be one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “We have to make that happen.”

The pass rush was one storyline. The lineup changes in the secondary Sunday were also significant. Matt Elam started at safety and Michael Huff was benched. Jimmy Smith started at cornerback, while Corey Graham saw action in nickel coverage.

Both Huff and Graham struggled in Denver, and Harbaugh sent a message.

“Well, you’ve always got to change, especially in the beginning of the year when you’re trying to figure out who you are,” Harbaugh said.

Elam was the Ravens’ first-round pick, a talent they are high on. Look for him to remain a starter, as the Ravens accept that he will make mistakes as he learns. With James Ihedigbo having a solid game Sunday at the other safety spot, Huff looks like the odd man out.

While the Ravens showed improvement, the Browns (0-2) are not a good team. A better indication of where the Ravens stand will come next Sunday, with the Texans (2-0) visiting M & T Bank Stadium.

Now let’s talk offense. The Ravens’ offense needs to get better, and that process could be more challenging with the status of running back Ray Rice (hip flexor) up in the air.

The Ravens were shutout in the first half against the Browns. Baltimore’s offense lacks a consistent rhythm. The running game, led Sunday by Pierce (19 carries, 57 yards), still needs to be more consistent. So does the passing game.

Torrey Smith (seven catches, 85 yards) continues to play well as a No. 1 receiver, and rookie Marlon Brown (four catches, 45 yards) caught his second touchdown pass in two games. But the contribution from the tight ends remains poor. Billy Bajema and Dallas Clark had one catch apiece, while Ed Dickson dropped the first pass of the game and Joe Flacco never targeted Dixon again.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley (four catches, 36 yards) did not sugarcoat the offensive performance.

“You saw the first half, we were awful,” Stokley said. “We got to be more consistent. That’s the thing that we all realize. We got to play four quarters. The defense played great for us, kept us in the game. Get to work, correct our mistakes, and get better every week. We didn’t play a great football game. That’ s our goal this week, to get better and play four quarters of football.”

The Ravens look a long way from having a dynamic offense. But having a dynamic defense, led by the pass rush? That could be the Ravens’ ticket to success.