OWINGS MILLS – Until All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis read the eyes of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch and dove to snatch the football out of the air Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens were in an interception drought.
His interception in the final seconds of the Ravens’ 17-14 victory at Heinz Field marked the first interception of the year for Baltimore through four games.
Only the Buffalo Bills have fewer interceptions than the Ravens with zero.
And the NFL’s second-ranked defense has only one fumble recovery for two takeaways, the fewest in the league as Baltimore ranks last in the NFL in turnover margin with a minus-seven mark.
Plus, the Ravens (3-1) have just seven sacks.
As far as Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is concerned, the statistics aren’t going to consume him.
He’s far more interested in winning than in coming out on top of the stat game.
“I never get much involved in stats,” Mattison said. “The only thing I ever look at stats for is to see if it’s negative, if it’s something we’ve got to address. The biggest stat that I look at is: Did we do the whole thing good enough to win? That’s what we’re looking for.”
So, how have the Ravens (3-1) been so effective defensively?
Well, they rank second in total defense, third in yards allowed per play, first in passing defense are tied for first in first downs allowed per game, lead the NFL in third-down efficiency and fifth in points allowed per contest.
The win-loss percentage, giving up 222.3 yards of total offense per game, just 119.0 through the air, a 23.5 percent third-down conversion rate and surrendering 13.8 points per game are numbers that override the lack of individual statistics.
“This is a very sound, physical, fundamental defense,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “I don’t think they try to trick you very much. They have good players basically everywhere. I know that people talk about the loss of Ed Reed, which certainly as a big impact in terms of his playmaking ability. But I think their secondary has played very well.
“I think their corners don’t give up any big plays. They come up and they’re good tacklers. There’s not a lot of run-after-the-catch plays. The front seven certainly applies a lot of pressure without having to blitz. When they do choose to blitz, they’re very effective in that mode. This is a team that certainly keeps you on your toes at every position and doesn’t give up many opportunities to create a bunch of big chunk plays. We’re certainly going to have our work cut out for us against the Ravens.”
As far as the lack of interceptions, there was a perfect example against the Steelers where cornerback Fabian Washington had a chance to pick one off.
However, 6-foot-4, 350-pound Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was barreling toward Washington and he got out of his way rather than collide with him.
“There was a situation where the ball was tipped where Fabian has a decision to make: to go lay out and get it and run head-long into Haloti Ngata or miss it,” Mattison said. “I would have done the same thing he did, believe me, when I saw that guy coming at me. I’m not worried about that. Our guys are going to get that done.
“How many opportunities did you have to get interceptions and how many of them did you get? I firmly believe they’re going to come as long as we just keep playing like we’re playing.”
When it comes to rushing the passer, the Ravens haven’t had glittery numbers.
Three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has recorded 2 ½ sacks followed by Ngata’s two sacks.
The Ravens are on pace for only 28 sacks.
Mattison hasn’t brought a ton of blitz pressure so far. And some chances to tackle the quarterback have been squandered.
“I think we’ve left three sacks each game on the field,” Mattison said. “There were two times last game where if the guy would have stayed high like he was supposed to, he just got a little anxious, there was going to be a free hit on the quarterback. We’ve missed a couple of them, so we’ve left a couple on the field.
“We just have to execute our blitzes a little bit better and our pressures. When a guy is one-on-one, we’ve got to make sure we beat them. We have mixed in a lot of three-man rush also.”
The Ravens have produced a fair amount of pressure in the form of quarterback hurries, but that doesn’t show up in the statistical tables.
Figuring out what the Ravens have to do to create more sacks is hard to discern.
The basic answer is: get to the quarterback sooner with a direct path. Easier said than done, though.
“There’s really no genius answer to that question,” Suggs said. “We’ve just got to get there faster, got to get there more. And we definitely have got to get more turnovers, make more plays on the ball, make more picks.
“We’ve just got to keep going. There isn’t a need to panic. We’ve only had four games. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
Constant hits on the quarterback tend to make them gun-shy.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 55.4 percent of their throws (84 of 146) for 523 yards, one touchdown and a long completion of 34 yards for a cumulative 69.0 passer rating.
Derided and dismissed during the offseason, the secondary has held up well.
This week, though, they face a stiffer challenge against the Broncos’ top-ranked passing offense led by prolific quarterback Kyle Orton.
The No. 1 ranking isn’t something that Mattison is interested in exploring.
“Ask me that question at the end of the year, I really don’t even look at that,” Mattison said. “We get a big stack of stats, and a lot of people look at them and highlight them. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have known that if you wouldn’t have said that.
“If we’re really low or down in an area and somebody says that, then we’re going to address that. We expect to be up there. I just look at each week, that each phase we’ve got to be up to the top or you’re not playing Ravens defense.”