Three and out: Ravens defense better this year?

Three and out: Ravens defense better this year?
September 23, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Ravens' offense needs Ray Rice back

Three and out with the Ravens.

1st down – The Ravens are better defensively this year.

No touchdowns allowed in the past two games. That’s serious defense in today’s NFL.

Much attention was given to the players the Ravens lost. Not enough attention was given to the players the Ravens added. Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Matt Elam. All of them have helped make the 2013 Ravens defense better than last season, when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Seriously, the Ravens are better on defense without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed? That’s right, I said it. Both are going to the Hall of Fame, but they weren’t playing at that level last season. The Ravens needed to get younger and faster on defense, and they did it.

2nd down – The AFC North is a two-team race between the Ravens and Bengals.

The wheels have come off in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 0-3 and deserve to be. The Browns (1-2) got a nice win Sunday with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. But does anyone really believe the Browns can win the division?

That means the Bengals (2-1) and Ravens (2-1) will duke it out for the AFC North. It might be decided Week 17, when they meet in Cincinnati. We’ve seen teams take the hard road to winning a Super Bowl, like the Ravens did last year when they won at Denver, and at New England. But winning the division, and getting at least one home playoff game, is still the better plan. Ask the Bengals. They’ve been bounced in the first round the past two years, losing road playoff games at Houston. The Bengals want to win the division badly. The Ravens need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

3rd down – Sunday was a reminder of Ray Rice’s immense value.

After 43 consecutive starts, Rice (hip flexor) finally missed a game Sunday. And the Ravens missed him. Yes, they scored 30 points, but one touchdown came on defense, and the other came on a punt return.

Bernard Pierce (24 carries, 65 yards) is a nice back, but Rice is special. When he gets into open space, he’s a big-play waiting to happen, both as a runner, and a receiver. With Joe Flacco still trying to build chemistry with Marlon Brown, Dallas Clark, and Brandon Stokley, the Ravens need the threat of Rice in the backfield. They will be hoping that Rice recovers in time to play Sunday against the Bills. If Rice doesn’t play, the Ravens can still win, but expect their offense to continue being sporadic.

Extra point: Remember how cornerback Jimmy Smith was being maligned during preseason, and after the debacle in Denver? Smith has played back-to-back solid games. He has the tools to be an excellent NFL corner – size, speed, and a willingness to be physical. If Smith finally puts those tools together, he and Lardarius Webb can be one of the league’s better corner tandems.

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