Eight Simple Things About Ravens Defense

When most people think about the Baltimore Ravens, they think about defense.  The Ravens didn't just spend years building, drafting, and signing players to form a single one or two year unit that would dominate their way to a Super Bowl, they built a reputation of coaches, coordinators, and a constant flow of talent to that side of the ball that let's you know that when you think "Ravens" you better think "Shit, we're not going to score."

What most people probably don't think about when the Ravens become a topic of conversation is Ted Marchibroda.  If you had asked me who the first head coach of the Ravens was they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, I wouldn't have hesitated to say Brian Billick.  Maybe that's just me.  Maybe parents were right when they called me "Hey stupid" my whole life.  Maybe that's too much information.

Either way, I didn't know that when they were trying to build a brand for the Ravens, they started with a legendary offensive coordinator.  Yeah, the Ravens started out trying to score points.

And in their first year of existence, they did it pretty well.  In fact, they haven't finished higher ranked in the NFL in scoring (sixth in 1996) since that inaugural season.  Vinny Testaverde threw 33 touchdown passes and they had two (TWO) receivers go over 1,000 yards: Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson.  The offense was a real thriller.  (Sorry, you can just stop reading now.  I apologize.)

Marchibroda, who perfected the hurry-up offense with Jim Kelly in Buffalo, was actually serving his second stint as head coach in Baltimore; he coached the Baltimore Colts from 1975-1979 and then interesting enough, the Indianapolis Colts from 1992-1995.  Needless to say, if the Indianapolis Ravens ever become a thing, Marchibroda will become the head coach.

Still, the Ravens would go from one offensive mind to another when they hired Billick, the offensive coordinator of the Vikings, to replace Marchibroda after three losing seasons.  At that time, the building blocks for one of the all-time great defensive dynasties were already coming together:

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was getting his players: first Ray Lewis in 1996 (Lewis and Jonathon Ogden weren't only the Ravens two first round picks that year, they were the only two players in the entire draft to appear in 10 or more Pro Bowls in their careers,) then Peter Boulware in 1997 (if the Ravens hadn't selected Ogden the year prior, they may have opted for a LT in '97: Mr. Walter Jones,) and CB Chris McCalister in 1999.  

In all, they selected seven defensive players in the first two rounds of their first four drafts, and in 1999 they moved all the way up from 22nd in total defense to 2nd.  

When they won the Super Bowl in 2000, with help of prior additions like Rod Woodson, Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary, Tony Siragusa, and Sam Adams, the Ravens were first in scoring defense, second in total defense, first against the run, and allowed five rushing touchdowns all season long.

More importantly, they overcame Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer to win a championship and for years gave people the excuse that "you don't need a great QB to win a Super Bowl."  No, you just need a defense that could go down as the greatest ever constructed.

And so here are eight things you may or may not know about how to build a defensive dynasty:

This Current Ravens Defense Might Be the Best They've Had

That's a bold statement, and not one I'm going to explicitly defend, but the argument could still be made that these Ravens are as good as they've ever been.

Though those standards are set quite high, with the 2000 team going down as one of the greatest to ever take the field, it's certainly hard to argue against them being the best defensive unit of 2011.  Advanced NFL Stats rates them first in Defensive Efficiency by a wide margin (Seattle checks in at #8) second against the run (Seattle is #1) and second against the pass.  

Football Outsiders doesn't disagree, with Baltimore first in DVOA and Weighted Defense, second against the run and pass.

The unit as a whole is experienced, with second-year player Terrence Cody as the youngest regular (2011 first round pick CB Jimmy Smith has missed most of the year with an ankle injury) and talented: four starters that you could consider "regulars" on the Pro Bowl team.  Also, outside of Smith, they've suffered pretty much no serious injuries with nine players on defense starting all eight games.

If you look at their schedule this season, you'll see some scores that don't seem to jive with being a "top defense," like giving up 27 points to Arizona and 26 points in a loss to Tennessee.  However, you have to remember that in both of those games, the offense had turnovers that left very short fields for the defense to work with.  In those games they also held Kevin Kolb to 10 of 21 passing and Chris Johnson to 53 yards on 24 carries.  

Like any defense, whether good or bad, they'll look a whole lot better when their offense is efficient and doesn't turn the ball over.  Baltimore is 3-2 when they turn the ball over two or more times, and they're 1-2 when they're held to under 100 yards rushing.

So how do they compare to the 2000 squad?

The 2000 Ravens Defense So Ridiculous, Rob Dyrdek Made a Show About It

That is to say, it was absolute "Ridiculousness."

I'm a history and research nut.  That's just how I operate and I love to look back, even though this will hardly have anything to do with Sundays game, it's still fun to remember.  Fun facts about the Ravens 2000 defense:

  • They had four shutouts in the regular season.
  • They didn't allow a touchdown in six regular season games.
  • They kept opponents in single-digits in nine regular season games.
  • They allowed 23 points in the playoffs.  Total.  In four games.
  • They allowed one offensive touchdown in the playoffs and one kickoff return touchdown.
  • They allowed more than 10 points in five games, more than 20 points in two games, and the 36 points allowed to Jacksonville was by far the most.
  • They won that game against Jacksonville 39-36.  They trailed 23-7 at halftime, but Tony Banks threw four second half touchdown passes.  
  • They lost four games all season long.  In those games they scored: 6, 3, 6, 6.
  • During a three-game losing streak in the middle of the year, they allowed 33 points total and gave up three touchdowns total.  
  • How many times over a course of 20 games did the Ravens force at least one turnover?  20.  
  • They forced four or more turnovers nine times: four turnovers in four games, five turnovers three games, and six turnovers twice.  
  • They forced five turnovers in the AFC Championship game and five turnovers in the Super Bowl.  
  • They forced the Raiders to turn it over five times in that AFC Championship game.  Oakland had the second-fewest amount of turnovers in the NFL.  Baltimore held them to three points, only the third time all year they were kept under 20.  They were sixth in total offense, and the Ravens held them to 191 total yards.  They were number one in rushing offense, and the Ravens held them to 24 yards on the ground.
  • Tony Siragusa knocked Rich Gannon out of the game for awhile but it didn't matter; Gannon, who was headed to his second Pro Bowl, was only 11 of 21 for 80 yards and two interceptions.
  • The week before, the Ravens were in danger of going down 13-10 in the fourth quarter to the Titans, when Anthony Mitchell returned a blocked kick 90 yards to take the lead.  Ray Lewis had a 50-yard interception return to seal the deal.  
  • Trent Dilfer was 5 of 16 for 117 yards in that game.
  • Giants QB Kerry Collins was having a career year in 2000.  He wasn't spectacular, but he had 22 TDs against 13 INTs and completed 58.8% of his passes.  Career-highs across the board for the former number five pick.  
  • In the Super Bowl he was 15 of 39 for 112 yards, 0 TDs and 4 INTs.
  • The Ravens had 26 fumble recoveries.  Twice as many as second place.

So as you can see, the Ravens can boast one of the greatest units, offensive or defensive, of all time.  They're the Ron Jeremy of units.  

With many thanks going to the Super Bowl MVP...

The Ravens' Ray Lewis Says, "Look, Please, Respect this House.  I Beg of You, Good Sir."

Maybe not in so many words, but you get the idea.  Can you believe that Ray Lewis has been in Baltimore since the beginning?  I mean, he was in Baltimore six years before The Wire, and three years after The Wire.  In laymans terms: That'a looooong time.

Despite having one of the great careers in the history of the University of Miami, and being seen as an elite tackler, NFL teams weren't sure that Lewis was big enough for the NFL.  In the 1996 draft, he went 26th overall.

He was the third listed linebacker taken, after Kevin Hardy at 2 and Reggie Brown at 17.  He was the twelfth defensive player taken.  Players taken in the first round that year have combined for 20 appearances on the "All-Pro" list, and seven of those mentions belong to Ray Lewis.  (Four belong to former teammate Jonathan Ogden.)  

Lewis and Brian Dawkins are the only players still active from that draft, and Lewis isn't only "just active," he's still one of the very best defensive players in the game.  He's missed three Pro Bowls in his career: his rookie year (when he led the team in tackles with 110,) and in 2002 and 2005 when he missed 10 or more games in each of those seasons.  Last year he had 139 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two sacks, and a touchdown.  

He's a two-time Defensive MVP and the leader of a defense that's finished in the top six in total yards in 10 of the last 12 years, and that will be 11 of 13 by the end of this year.

Yeah, he's pretty good.  But he's never returned a fumble for a touchdown, so there's no way I'd even consider him for the Hall of Fame Marshawn Lynch will run all over him Seahawks score and win hey happy thoughts good times.

And here's a lesson for Michael Vick and Tiger Woods and other athletes that may or may not ruin their image.  Who the hell still talks about this:

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When a Raven Breeds with an Assistant Coach, a Head Coach is Born

Far be it from me to give you Sex Ed, but they never went over bird sex in my classes.  Apparently this is what happens when you breed across species, and it doesn't sound too bad.

There are some historically famous coaching units that would go on to feature multiple notable head coaches, such as under Bill Walsh in San Francisco, and then in turn, Mike Holmgren in Green Bay.  Baltimore has been no exception.

Marvin Lewis was the first defensive coordinator, and after a one-year stint as the coordinator in Washington, he took over as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.  Now, the Bengals haven't had a whole lot of success under Marvin, but they haven't been terrible and from what I gather on Hard Knocks, he is one hell of a nice guy.

Assistant to Marchibroda was Kirk Ferentz, the current head coach at Iowa.

Quality Control coach on offense was Eric Mangini, who was such a good head coach that he got two different opportunities!

Quality Control coach on defense was Jim Schwartz, who would spend eight years as the defensive coordinator in Tennessee before leading the Lions to a 6-2 record this season and then eventually getting into an argument that I wish would have turned into a brawl with the brother of the current head coach of the Ravens.

From 1997-1998, Ken Whisenhunt was the tight ends coach, and I'm sure he'll be a head coach for at least another eight games.  I am not going to hedge any bets for him being employed beyond that.

In 1999, they'd add Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan, and Mike Smith, who is the head coach of the Falcons.  I point that out because his name is Mike Smith and honestly sometimes I forget he exists too.

Future and past 49ers coach Mike Nolan would take over as the defensive coordinator from 2001-2004.  Nolan once pushed for the right to wear a suit and tie on the sidelines and won.  It would pave the way for Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to dress like a homeless man.

Another future 49ers head coach was linebackers coach Mike Singletary, who was multi-talented for both coaching and writing the song "Pants on the Floor."

The current defensive coordinator, and future head coach of the 49ers, is Chuck Pagano.  If you ever need a reminder of how hard it can be to land your dream coaching job in the NFL, look no further than Pagano.  Here he is at the age of 51, in his first year as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, after spending 17 years with various positions in college coaching at eight different schools, and eight seasons as a secondary coach in the NFL.  

That's So Raven

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The Ravens Also Have That Other Guy From the U

The similarities between Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren't endless, but there are several interesting parallels between their football careers.

Like Lewis, Reed is one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the University of Miami.  He was a two-time All-American and has more interceptions (21) than anyone in the history of the school.  He has a reputation for getting the pick-six more than anyone in the NFL, and he did it five times while at the U.

While safeties aren't usually viewed as "Top 10 picks" because they have less perceived value than other positions, certainly Ed Reed "slipped" in the 2002 draft.  The Ravens managed to pick him up at 24, after teammate cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and after safety Roy Williams, who went 16 picks ahead of him.  That first round class combined for 16 All-Pro appearances, and five of those are from Reed, the most of anyone in 2002.  His seven Pro Bowl appearances is also more than anyone in the class, including Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney.

If there was a "Ray Lewis of the secondary" from anyone in the NFL, it might just be teammate and fellow Hurricane, Ed Reed.

Over nine+ seasons, he has accumulated 56 interceptions, six touchdowns, 117 pass deflections, and has the two longest interception returns in NFL history.  He's forced 11 fumbles, recovered 10, and scored on two of those.  He is 20 interception return yards behind Rod Woodson for the most ever in an NFL career.

He was also the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, when he had nine interceptions which he returned for 358 yards.  He has three times in his career recorded eight or more interceptions.

When it's all said and done, depending how you want to define it, Reed will go down as one of the best safeties to ever play the game.  At the very least, he is pretty much the definition of a "ball hawk," though to be fair that title should be designated to one of our players.  So, just call him "ball-raven."  What are the odds that's already taken?

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If Reed and Lewis are Gilligan and The Skipper too, Who are "And the rest...."?

They have the two future Hall of Famers, but they couldn't be the best in the NFL with just those two alone.  Like Bryan Adams they are All for One and All for Love.  Like a spin-off of Growing Pains, its Just the 11 of Us.  Like french fries at the bottom of the bag, they're a unit that keeps on giving.  

The Millionaire, Haloti Ngata

Okay, all of these guys are millionaires, but the most recent payday went to DT Haloti Ngata.  For his services he was given five years and $61 million, not cheap but as much as any team would have gladly paid for the big guy from the University of Oregon.  

While at Oregon, he became the first Duck in 43 years to be a consensus All-American.  The Ravens made him the 12th overall pick in 2006 and he's made the last two Pro Bowls and considered to be one of the top interior lineman in the game.

Most importantly, he once gave Ben Roethlisberger an Owen Wilson:

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and his wife, Terrence Cody

To say that Cody is a "big boy," would be like saying that Transformers 2 is "no that bad."  It's an understatement.  He has been listed in the 350 pound range for the Ravens, at 6'4, but has easily peaked around 400.  Because of this, and because of the fact that he ran the slowest 40 time of any eventually drafted defensive tackle since 1995, he slipped to the Ravens in the second round.

Otherwise, he could have been a top 10 pick.  

Cody was not considered a star coming out of high school.  He only got a couple of scholarship offers, for which he could not academically qualify, and went to community college.  Where I'd like to believe he made an awesome study group and became best friends with a skinny Indian fellow, but in reality he just dominated and was able to transfer to Alabama.

Considered the best player on the national championship defense, the only thing that kept Cody from winning a bunch of awards in his senior season was Ndamukong Suh, arguably the best defensive player in college in the last 10 years.  

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There's Beef Moe, and then there's Mo' Beef.

 

The movie star, Terrell Suggs

If sacks are flashy, then Suggs is definitely the movie star on the defense.  

As a junior at Arizona State, Suggs set the NCAA single-season sacks record with 24.  He also had a school-record 65.5 tackles for a loss in his career.  Interestingly, Suggs holds the Arizona 5A high school record for rushing yards in a single-game, with 367.  

Whether he's playing DE or OLB, Suggs has a nose for finding the quarterback.  He was Defensive Rookie of the Year, when he registered 12 sacks, one interception, five forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.  In his career, he has 74.5 sacks, 60th on the all-time list, and he's only 29 years old.  

This season, he has six sacks and two interceptions.  He's the force that the offensive line will have to protect Tarvaris from. 

The Professor and Mary Ann, Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams

Even Gilligan's Island had to have a few characters that were just thrown in later.  (That being, that the Professor and Mary Ann weren't in the original theme song...)  

Webb was a primary kick and punt returner in his first two seasons with Baltimore, now a full-time starter for the first time.  He has registered eight pass deflections and two interceptions (one returned 73 yards for a TD) this season. 

Williams was a former seventh-round pick of Tennessee, now a starter for the first time in his career.  Jimmy Smith will start to see more playing time as he catches up after recovering from injury, but Williams has to carry the load for now.  So far, the Ravens pass defense hasn't been a problem.  They've allowed six passing touchdowns in eight games.

Other Kinds of Ravens 

Though the Baltimore Ravens were the first kind of any Raven, the animal kingdom decided to borrow from the football team and make a bird called a Raven.  It's kind of sad that one species would steal from another, but that's a crow for ya.  No respect.

The raven is a part of the bird family known as Corvidae or Corvini.  The Great Corvini was a magician that used to come to my house and do tricks for me on my birthday, but it kind of sucked because he would just do one card trick and then he would go to the bedroom with my mom and do tricks for hours.  I used to be so jealous that she got to see all the tricks and all I got to see was one dumb "is this your card?" trick.  And it was never even my card.  He was a terrible magician.  Like, worse than David Blaine, but at least Blaine doesn't do his tricks in private.

A crow and a raven aren't the same bird, but they both fall into the Corvini classification.  So do jackdaws and rooks, but I've never even heard of those birds, so who cares?  In reality, those are fitting names because nobody would want to hang out with someone called "jackdaw" because he sounds like Cletus the Jackdaw Yokel.  And rooks never get any respect in the NFL.  The Baltimore Rooks would not have a top defense.

There are many different species of ravens around the world, such as the Australian Raven (Caw Caw Mate,) the Little Raven (caw,) the New England Raven (Wicked Cawesome,) the Chihuahuan Raven (yo quiero Cawco Bell,) and the Dwarf Raven (Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Happy, Grumpy, Bashful, and CAW)

It's believed that the dark black feathers of ravens are used to help them absorb heat so that they can fly in high altitudes and really cold places.  Which is weird, because why are there so many white Canadians and Russians?  Mmm... white russians.

You can tell the difference between a raven and a crow by these features: Ravens are bigger, have a heavier bill, shaggy throat hackles, long fingered wing tips and a long wedge shaped tail.  In other words, ravens are elitist assholes.

A wild raven can live more than thirty years, which means that there are still ravens out there that were born before me.  That's kind of creepy, but I'll have the last laugh and one day outlive them.  As long as I stop down this current path that I am going.

Corvophobia is the fear of ravens and crows, which is understandable but kind of ridiculous because these birds have no interest in humans.  A more reasonable fear is Cuervophobia, the fear of waking up in Tijuana with a terrible hangover and without any idea how you got there or where your pants are.

Follow me on twitter @casetines

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