Despite playing four games in 17 days, the Baltimore Ravens concluded the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record.
While most are happy with the team’s record, the apparent regression of the Ravens defense has been alarming for some – thus initiating the usual finger pointing for answers. Fans are always looking for someone to blame.
After their first four games this season, the Ravens have declined in sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions compared to last season. So far, this defense hasn’t been flashy, and they aren’t as feared as they once were.
The icing on the moldy cake came last Thursday when Brandon Weeden exploited the Ravens defense for 320 yards, while being sacked only once and intercepted only once.
During his one season at the helm of the Ravens defense, Chuck Pagano was a breath of fresh air, as he restored the “organized chaos” approach the defense had under Rex Ryan. When Ryan left to coach the New York Jets, immediate successor Greg Mattison’s style wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he frequently sent three-man rushes during critical situations, so fans loved what Pagano brought.
After Pagano’s departure to Indianapolis to coach the Colts, Dean Pees was promoted to defensive coordinator. The Ravens defensive performance thus far has many prematurely and inaccurately labeling Pees’s aggressiveness – based on statistics – to that of Mattison, which is totally inaccurate.
Statistics provided from the Ravens actually show that Pees’s defense has been just as –if not more – aggressive than Pagano’s defense from 2011.
Through the first four games in 2012, the Ravens pressured* opposing quarterbacks 130 times under Pees, compared to 129 last season under Pagano.
*Pressure (as defined by the Ravens’ coaches) – Defensive plays that send five or more rushers at the quarterback (fans usually call them “blitzes.) OR packages that send three attackers at one spot in the offense, meant to “overload” the offensive line and prevent them from shifting/sliding to the attacked side. The Ravens’ overload packages usually involve Haloti Ngata dropping into coverage while either Bernard Pollard or Lardarius Webb attack the line of scrimmage from their secondary positions. Overloads are designed to get a “free runner” at the quarterback.
Even though the Ravens had two more sacks, six more forced fumbles and two more interceptions at this point last season, Pees has brought the same amount of pressure.
The amount of three-man rushes has been almost the same as well. Last season, Pagano only rushed three on four plays through four games, where as Pees has done it five times. The biggest difference is that this season, the Ravens have gotten two of their nine total sacks from a three-man rush.
For comparison’s sake, the Ravens pressured Tom Brady 19 times in the AFC Championship game last season – this year, Pees dialed up pressure 38 times.
The pressure/sack ratio may have been higher under Pagano but that’s not to the fault of the defensive coordinator – it’s on the guys actually playing.
Clearly, not having Terrell Suggs is a huge detriment to this defense. Through the first four games last season, Suggs already had four sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
To date, outside linebackers have only accounted for two of the Ravens’ nine sacks – 1.5 of which are from Paul Kruger.
Even though the Ravens have managed to win three of their first four games, they can’t rely on the offense clicking on all cylinders each week.
Within a week, the Ravens defeated the Patriots and the Browns but only forced one turnover total in the two games.
The feeling here is that, had the Ravens had Suggs on the field at the beginning of the season, Pees’s defensive philosophy wouldn’t even be in question. Aside from Kruger – who is still green himself – high expectations have been placed on rookie Courtney Upshaw and unproven Albert McClellan.
Asking either of these guys to replicate the production of the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is unfair.
Until Suggs returns (and gets the rust off), the Ravens defense will continue to “struggle” compared to last season.
Pointing the blame at Pees for their performance is unjust and doesn’t make sense. There is only so much the coordinator can do; the rest is up to those on the field.
Expecting Pees to get the same production as Pagano was able to without one of the key pieces of the defense in place would be like calling the Ferrari in your driveway a piece of junk because the gas tank is empty – completely unfair.