Ravens defense prepares for the Bengals' offensive weapons
The game is football, but based on what defensive coordinator Dean Pees has had to deal with in terms of injuries for the Ravens, it has felt like a game of musical chairs.
"Every week, it's like I take attendance in our room to see who shows up. You see what you have or figure out what you think you're going to have for that Sunday and then you just try to put them in the right spot," Pees said.
Pees has the NFL's 20-ranked overll defense, and that's actually a significant improvement considering how much he has lost over the course of the season: LB Ray Lewis (9 games), LB Terrell Suggs (7), DT Haloti Ngata (2), NT Terrence Cody (1), NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu (4), LB Albert McClellan (1), LB Dannell Ellerbe (3), LB Paul Kruger (1), DE Pernell McPhee (5), S Bernard Pollard (2), CB Jimmy Smith (5), CB Lardarius Webb (9), CB Chris Johnson (2).
Eight of those players are starters. All of them are signficant contributors.
The Ravens have won just two of their last five games, but a large part of that is because of the inaction on offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco couldn't get it going for most of three quarters vs. the San Diego Chargers before a comeback victory in overtime as the defense kept it close, struggled througout in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, stalled in the second half vs. the Washington Redskins and never got started vs. the Denver Broncos. In between all of that, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired.
Flacco rebounded in last week's win vs. the New York Giants and the defense was right there to back him up. Eli Manning was held to 150 yards passing and Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson to 56 yards combined rushing.
Pees' defense has gotten better as it has grown healthier, particularly against the run. They'd allowed 207 yards per game during a three-game stretch in the middle of the season when the injury rash began.
The Ravens close out the season at the Cincinnati Bengls on Sunday when they will contend with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a running back Pees is familiar with from when both were with the New England Patriots. Shutting him down will be a good way to enter the postseason.
"This is a back that knows the worth of a 4-yard gain and that's kind of what I was stressing to the defense," Pees said. "This is not a guy (who says), 'OK, I have a chance to jump-cut it out of here, maybe make a big play or get tackled for a loss.' ... He is a tough, though kid. He doesn't say anything. He is a business man. He goes to work."