The dropoff for the Ravens defense has been alarming this season, Perennially among the best defenses in the NFL, the Ravens through the first half of this season rank 26th overall, allowing 386.3 yards a game, and 28th against the run (139.5).
But one area where the Ravens have hardly slipped at all is in red zone defense. Playing without Terrell Suggs for much of the season so far, and without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb now, this might not be the Ravens defense of yesteryear, but get inside their 20-yard line and it's still tough sledding.
The Ravens rank third in the league in red zone defense, yielding touchdowns on 39.4 percent of opposing drives inside the Ravens' 20-yard line. Last season the Ravens led the league in that department at 38.8 percent.
Last week, the Browns advanced inside the Ravens 20-yard line five times, and were stuffed five times. Once inside the 20, the Browns never recorded a first down and had to settle for five field goals.
Running back Ray Rice said that during the game, while the offense was in deep freeze -- failing to record a first down for nearly two quarters -- Suggs came to the offense and told them that, "We’ll hold them from scoring touchdowns. You guys go ahead and put a drive together and let’s win this game.”
That's what happened, as the Ravens marched 81 yards in nine plays for the eventual winning score in their 25-15 win.
“Our guys take (red zone defense) seriously," coach John Harbaugh said at his Wednesday news conference. "They understand how important it is. We work on it all the time. We work on it every practice, from minicamp right til now.
" It’s the most important part of the field," he added. "It determines whether points are scored, so it's an important part of the game. It’s probably been one of the major keys, along with turnovers ... to our success so far."
The Ravens also held the Chiefs out of the end zone on all three of their red-zone chances in a 9-6 Ravens win.
Suggs, who has played in just two games since returning from an offseason Achilles injury, says the defense espouses a "bend but don't break" philosophy.
Plus, he says, having Ed Reed patrolling the back of a shortened field in the red zone certainly helps.
"We have probably one of the best safeties ever to play the game. and when he gets too close, when he gets constricted room back there, he don't like it," Suggs said on Wednesday, "so the fire kind of gets lit again and we're ready to go."