Harbaugh: Ravens embracing these final weeks as a team
The low point for the Ravens came Oct. 14, when they were shredded by the Dallas Cowboys –- one of the NFL’s worst rushing teams –- for a franchise-record 227 rushing yards allowed.
To make matters worse, they lost their best cover cornerback in Lardarius Webb for the season with a knee ligament tear, Ray Lewis tore his triceps which would end his regular season and linemen Haloti Ngata (knee/shoulder) and Pernell McPhee (knee) were struggling to stay on the field.
Ever since then, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who is in his first season in that role with the Ravens, has had to mix and match his lineups. He admits they've had to use “gimmicks” to manufacture pressure on quarterbacks to compensate for the losses, but he won't need to resort to that for the Feb. 3 Super Bowl vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
Cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed were the only defensive players to be on the field and start every game for the Ravens. Reed has played with torn cartilage in his shoulder since Week 3.
The other nine missed time, and Pees still improved his defense from 27th overall at mid-season to 17th heading into the postseason.
And the Ravens are even better than that ranking, shutting out Tom Brady in the New England Patriots –- the league’s third-highest scoring offense of all-time -- in the second half of last week’s AFC title game:
LB Paul Kruger: A lingering back injury from training camp took him out in Week 2 as he was filling the spot vacated by Terrell Suggs as he recovered from Achilles surgery. Rookie Courtney Upshaw started until Suggs’ surprising quick return in Week 7. Kruger eased his way back, getting a couple starts at the “rush” and “sam” LB spots to lead the Ravens with 9.5 sacks. In the last two playoff games, he has started at DE as the Ravens came out in a nickel package.
LB Jameel McClain: Started at “will’ and took over at “mike” when Lewis was lost for 10 games in Week 6. A spine contusion ended his season in Week 14 as he was replaced by little-used Josh Bynes until Lewis returned for the wild-card playoff game.
LB Dannell Ellerbe: He has made 10 starts, filling in at “will” when McClain had to be shifted to fill in for Lewis. Went down for three games between Weeks 13-15 and was replaced by Brendon Ayanbadejo. Ellerbe is back at "will."
LB Albert McClellan: Made 12 starts at “sam” but a shoulder injury slowed him and kept him out of two games. He was replaced by Kruger and more recently Upshaw in the starting role.
DE Pernell McPhee: A knee injury has slowed him all season, so he was replaced by Arthur Jones by Week 7. Jones found the greatest success of his three-year career, getting 4.5 sacks, when he was actually moved to his more natural position inside. Hasn't started the last two weeks as the Ravens opted for an extra defensive back.
S Bernard Pollard: Played through a rib injury since Week 2, finally sitting for the last three games of the regular season. James Ihedigbo replaced him and played well in his absence. Pollard has returned.
CB Jimmy Smith: The replacement for Webb, he only was on the field for two games before he left to have hernia surgery. Corey Graham, who was signed as just a special-teams player, replaced him the secondary, and he played well enough to keep it even though Smith has since returned. Graham has started 11 games.