The Ravens entered this season expecting to have one of the league's best secondaries. In fact, Lardarius Webb pretty much said it was the best, with Webb at one corner, returning starter Cary Williams on the other and first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith expected to challenge for Williams' job. Plus the Ravens returned future Hall of Famer Ed Reed as the field general back there along with heavy-hitting Bernard Pollard at strong safety.
By midseason, though, Webb was out for the season with a torn ACL and Smith was recovering from sports hernia surgery. The next men up -- Corey Graham, Chykie Brown and midseason pickup Chris Johnson -- have all helped to fill the void at corner and keep the secondary together.
"Those guys have stepped up," coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. "If you look at our secondary [and] how well they played in this last game against that offense and against a great quarterback, and really, what they’ve done all through the season … It starts with Ed Reed. Ed Reed’s done a great job in the back end."
Reed and Williams are the only Ravens defensive players to start all 16 regular-season games.
The Ravens finished the season ranked 17th in pass defense, allowing 228 yards a game. Defensive backs recorded 12 interceptions -- two more than their opponents -- and five sacks, and have increasingly been bringing pressure off the edge.
Graham, whose two interceptions against Denver keyed the Ravens' win, also credits Reed for keeping the secondary ship steady through the bumpy voyage this season. There's no doubt that Reed commands presence in the meeting room with second-year players such as Brown and Smith, as well as Graham, who is seeing the most extensive playing time of his career.
"Ed Reed holds everybody together," Graham said. "When the next guy has to go out there and get the job done, this is your job. When they are throwing you out there, they are depending on you to do well."
The group figures to face its stiffest challenge of the season this week in New England and Tom Brady, battling the league's top-ranked and top-scoring offense on the road with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.
"Brady, he is a smart guy. We all know that is the reason he is probably a Hall of Fame quarterback," Graham said. "He is smart with the ball. He makes great decisions. He looks for matchups, and we have to just go out there and make plays. ... You have to win your matchups.”