Unsung heroes having major impact on defense
The Ravens would not have been able to make this improbable run to the Super Bowl without their star players, but some hidden gems on the roster contributed heavily, too.
They won't be talked about much in the lead-up next week as quarterback Joe Flacco gets most of the credit, as he should, for turning around the offense.
Jacoby Jones' big-play ability on special teams made him a Pro Bowl selection for the first time. And, of course, there's running back Ray Rice, receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, the comeback of linebacker Terrell Suggs from an Achilles tear and the inspirational story of this being linebacker Ray Lewis's final game.
And there's John Harbaugh, their coach who made bold moves in cutting a veteran kicker before the season in favor for an undrafted rookie and firing his offensive coordinator 13 games into the season.
Without the contributions of these players, however, none of this would've mattered. The Ravens probably wouldn't be playing the San Francisco 49ers for the championship on Feb. 3 in New Orleans:
RB Anthony Allen: The third-stringer is primarily a special-teams player who has played a role in most of the Ravens’ noteworthy returns and stops in coverage. Jones has two kickoffs and a punt return for TDs, taking over the duties in Week 6 from Deonte Thompson. Almost always, Allen is engaged in the blocks to spring him. Allen originally was among the final cuts after the preseason because he was beaten out by rookie RBs Bobby Rainey and Damien Berry. But Harbaugh brought Allen back into the fold just before the season-opener, relegating Rainey to the practice squad and Berry going on injured reserve because of his shoulder, when he realized that Allen was his best option for special teams. S Emanuel Cook, a key player on special teams, too, also had a season-ending knee injury in the third preseason game.
LG Kelechi Osemele: The rookie began the season at RT, where he started for every regular-season game, but was moved to left guard for the playoffs. He has fortified a glaring weakness in the offensive line, along with Bryant McKinnie who was re-inserted at LT, playing a completely different position and on the opposite side. What Osemele has done has been nothing short of amazing, and he has played 1,228 snaps, or 94.3%, of the total offensive plays. The two games he didn't play every snap were a 30-point blowout at Houston and a meaningless regular-season finale at Cincinnati when starters were pulled after the first two series.
TE Ed Dickson: He only finished the season with 21 catches for 225 yards and 0 TDs, but his blocking ability in pass protection of Flacco, for the running game and on special teams can’t be quantified. Dickson went down early in Week 12 vs. San Diego with a knee injury that kept him out of three games. The Ravens lost all three, showing an inability to run the ball consistently and keep a clean pocket. Including the Chargers game when Dickson was hurt, Flacco was sacked 13 times during that stretch without him.
CB Chykie Brown: The second-year player wasn't the first choice to step into the secondary when injuries started to impact the defense. In fact, the Ravens signed free agent Chris Johnson and used him the nickel over Brown even though he’d only been with the team less than a week going into an AFC North game at Pittsburgh. Johnson injured his hamstring and hasn't been much of a factor since, but Brown has started grown and gotten better. He's no longer a liability there. And he's also a key contributor on special teams.
S James Ihedigbo: Picked up just before the regular season as a free agent when the New England Patriots released him, he has come up huge on special teams, in blocking and coverage, and stabilized the secondary when Bernard Pollard had to sit for three games with a rib injury. Ihedigbo is an aggressive, hard-hitter, and the Steelers found that out in Week 11. He knocked two players out of that game, ending the season of QB Byron Leftwich who had fractured ribs on a clean hit.
DE Arthur Jones: In his third season, he had a breakout year by getting more playing time than expected because of a knee injury to Pernell McPhee. Finished with a career-high 4.5 sacks for a line that had trouble getting pressure on opposing QBs. Also solid against the run as the defense steadily improved along with him. Being moved inside to his more natural position of tackle that he played at Syracuse paid dividends.