Return of QB pressure will aid rebuilding defense

Return of QB pressure will aid rebuilding defense
February 21, 2013, 2:15 am
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With the Ravens winning the second Super Bowl in franchise history earlier this month, it seems odd to suggest areas they have many areas to improve for 2013. They got hot at the right time -- much like the New York Giants before them when they won the championship the year before -- but still have glaring weaknesses that must be corrected to have a chance at making the playoffs again. Repeating? That’s another issue. 

Problem No. 4: Quarterback pressure.

The inability to get to the quarterback made it difficult for a secondary that lost Lardarius Webb, who tore a knee ligament that ended his season in Week 6, to sustain coverage.

The Ravens’ 17th-ranked defense had just 37 sacks in the regular season, 11 fewer than it did in 2011 when it ranked in the top five overall.

The result was quarterbacks who had too much time and were able to sustain long drives. That also made the Ravens the worst team in the NFL during the regular season in time of possession and wore out the defense by the fourth quarters of late-season losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. 

Even with Webb, the Ravens allowed rookie Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns to throw for 320 yards. Charlie Batch, the third-string quarterback of the Steelers, threw for 276 yards and led them on the game-winning drive at M&T Bank Stadium.

During a six-game stretch from Weeks 5-11, the Ravens only had 10 sacks. That included an ugly 9-6 win vs. the Kansas City Chiefs and a 30-point loss to the Houston Texans. They were missing key starters such as linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, defensive end Pernell McPhee and tackle Haloti Ngata.

By Week 16, when the Ravens clinched the AFC North with a 33-14 vs. the New York Giants, they got to Eli Manning three times. That was significant because the Giants’ offensive line was among the best in the NFL by allowing just 20 sacks.

The Ravens were able to turn it around in the playoffs behind defensive coordinator Dean Pees, getting to quarterbacks nine times. It was no surprise that Suggs, Lewis, McPhee and Ngata were rounding into optimum health, too.

Without linebacker Paul Kruger, who led them with 9.5 sacks and is likely to leave in free agency, the Ravens would have a major hole to fill. Lewis is retiring and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a free agent.

Pees mixed up his alignments, shifting defensive end Arthur Jones inside and moving Ngata outside. Jones responded with a career-high 4.5 sacks. The Ravens managed to figure it out despite a season full of setbacks, but if they lose too many key players Pees will be tasked with starting over again.