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There has been a lot of chatter around town about the 2006 edition (now 2007) of the Baltimore Ravens, and how they stack up to the 2000 team, which won the Lombardi Trophy in triumphant fashion on January 28, 2001. It seems as though the 2000 Ravens played long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Before the short-lived Elvis Grbac era took place in Baltimore. Before the 2002 salary cap purge. Before the team pinned its hopes on Kyle Boller being the franchise quarterback for years to come.
Still, as the postseason winds start swirling abound in Charm City, the nostalgia of that team, which captured the cityâ€™s hearts, is revisited.
Considering that the two squads are eerily similar in so many ways, it seems fitting that there have been a number of comparisons made of the teams in the past few weeks. The comparisons clearly start with the two defenses.
But comparing another Baltimore Ravens defense to the 2000 version is nothing new. Fans and analysts have been doing that for years. Up until this year, none of the other defenses measured up.
However, the 2006 unit is deserving of the chatter. It is a unit that did not set any all-time records, or have the level of hype surrounding it like the 2000 defense did. Nevertheless, it has been dominant in its own right, ranking No.1 in total defense, points allowed per game, ranking second against the run and second in sacks.
In 10 of its 16 games, this yearâ€™s Ravens have not allowed more than 13 points.
That said, is the best defense of the year, and perhaps the best defensive unit to take the field since its 2000 incarnation worthy of being placed in the same category?
Here is a rundown of how the two units stack up:
Nobody ran the ball against the Ravens in 2000. It is the best run defense in NFL history. The Ravens maintained a streak of games, which started in 1998, of not giving up a 100-yard rushing effort against a single back, despite being tested by Stephen Davis and Eddie George.
Although the 2006 team is not nearly as stout against the run, its strength is also to stop teams cold on the ground. This is a unit that only yielded 3.3 yards per carry, and four runs that covered more than 20 yards.
Similar to the 2000 version, the 2006 Ravens dominated up front because the line was able to tie up blockers, allowing the backers to run to the ball carrier. All lanes are usually filled, so the back has nowhere to cut back. In addition, the Ravens usually deny the edges, because the ends are so good at pushing through blocks.
However, while the safeties play a very active role in stuffing the run, especially rookie Dawan Landry, the 2000 outfit usually stopped most rushing attacks without using an eighth defender in the box, although the defensive backs did stick their nose in the dirt to tackle running backs when they needed to.
Another connection that the two sides share is their ability to force turnovers. Both units forced offenses to make critical mistakes, especially through the air. The 2000 Ravens recorded 23 interceptions; the 2006 version recorded 28 pickoffs.
However, while this yearâ€™s defense forced a number of its turnovers due to applying pressure, the 2000 unit forced turnovers because it was always in the right spot at the right time, playing disciplined zone coverage. It also took advantage of forcing offenses in more third-and-long conversion situations.
This is where a lot of the comparisons between the two units ends, as the differences between the two sides are clear and underscored.
Schematically, the two defenses are polar opposites. While the 2000 Baltimore Ravens depended on the strength of its front four to generate an effective pass-rush, allowing the linebackers to drop into zone coverage and read and react against the run, the 2006 Baltimore Ravens use exotic looks and extra defenders to get after the quarterback.
Speed wise, the 2006 unit has the advantage. The linebackers are better able to defend the pass, especially downfield. Backers Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott have been used like safeties to cover the middle of the field in a number of situations during the season.
To add, not only did the 2000 defense rarely blitz, but it also used the same look. They stayed in a base 4-3 alignment, at times switching to a 4-3 under formation with Peter Boulware acting as a fifth defensive lineman, but that was the most change one could see from the front on film.
Conversely, the 2006 helter skelter squad does not have a definitive base look. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan likes to switch between the 3-4, 4-3, 4-4-3 and 46 fronts. He will use defenders in various positions, because a number of starters can line up in multiple positions. While the 2000 Ravens led by coordinator Marvin Lewis was quite vanilla, the 2006 Ravens are Ben & Jerry’s Rocky Road.
Size is another issue. The Ravens front was bigger and stouter in 2000, featuring the mammoth tackle duo of Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams clogging the middle.
While the 2006 Ravens are not exactly a featherweight unit, they are a quicker and less beefy group. The tackle tandem of Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata are not quite as strong at the point of attack as their predecessors were, but they are more active and able to chase plays from sideline-to-sideline.
Which defense would hold up better during the upcoming playoff run?
As terrific as the 2000 Ravens were, it appears that the 2006 team is better equipped to deal with the offenses in this yearâ€™s playoff field.
During their run, the 2000 Ravens did not encounter an offense that could properly exploit its only weakness, which was its inability to defend the spread offense out of its base front. The teams it stuffed in the playoffs, including the Broncos, Titans and Raiders, depended on their strong rushing attacks to move the ball on offense.
Later in the 2001 season, the defending champions, with almost all of the same players back from the 2000 team, were indeed exploited at various times against solid pass offenses. Despite the fact that the Ravens played such sound zone defense in 2000, they did struggle to defend the spread attack at times, because the linebackers had a tough time covering a lot of ground and the pass rush was inconsistent. Also keep in mind that there have been modified and more closely enforced rules since 2000 that clearly benefit NFL offenses, particularly in the passing game.
On the other hand, while the 2006 Ravens are also susceptible to giving up the big play from time to time, it is a more athletic and explosive group, which can handle defending the spread out of its base defense. The linebackers are better in coverage and the pass-rush is more active. The only time that the Ravens can be exploited is if their blitz doesnâ€™t affect the quarterback in a timely fashion.
That said, from a historic standpoint, the 2000 defense is the more dominant unit, and will be regarded that way despite what the 2006 defense may achieve in the upcoming postseason.