EARLY BIRD: Waking up with the Ravens, Monday, Aug. 26, as they prepare for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Rams.
Two-minute topic: Have the Ravens improved enough in the preseason to consistently stop the run?
Midway through the first quarter of the Ravens preseason game on Thursday, Carolina faced third-and-1 at midfield. Panthers tailback DeAngelo Williams tried to power up the middle for the first down, but the Ravens would have none of it.
Marcus Spears and Arthur Jones blasted through the line and dropped Williams for no gain, forcing a punt.
That kind of stalwart effort against the run is something the Ravens are looking for this season from a defensive front that has received a face-lift since last season.
The starters had a disappointing performance against Atlanta in the second preseason game, as Steven Jackson plowed through gaping holes for an easy 42 yards on eight carries in the first half.
The unit tightened up considerably against Carolina, though. In the first half, when both teams primarily used their starters, the Panthers gained 18 yards on seven carries, and one of those was a 9-yard run by quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers' two running backs in the first half totaled 9 yards on six carries. Overall, Newton ran two times for 20 yards, and the Carolina running backs totaled 55 yards on 22 carries.
"I thought we stopped the run," coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "That was a goal, definitely a goal going in."
It's been a goal since last season ended. The Ravens finished 20th in the league against the run last season, an uncharacteristic drop for a team that is almost always among the top 10 in run defense.
To remedy that, the Ravens signed free agents Chris Canty and Spears, and drafted athletic defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round. Terrence Cody, who caught a lot of criticism last year, has rebounded from hip and elbow injuries last year with a strong camp. They join Haloti Ngata and Jones to form a group that should once again make running yardage tough to come by.
The increased depth along the defensive front has had a trickle-down effect on the roster, too. Bryan Hall and Pernell McPhee, defensive linemen last year, both changed positions; Hall dropped 50 pounds to become an inside linebacker, and McPhee moved to outside linebacker. The conversion didn't work out for Hall, in Baltimore at least; he was cut on Sunday as the Ravens began trimming their roster. Also, second-year defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who started two games last season and played 14 snaps in the Super Bowl, might not make the team.
The Ravens did not take kindly to being torched in the run game at times last season, and they know that even in the pass-happy NFL, defensive success starts on the ground.
"We understand that to be the kind of defense that we want to be, we’ve got to stop the run,” Canty said after the Atlanta game. “That’s the first goal every week.”