Ravens' top-ranked defense links this team to past glory

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — During an NFL season in which wild, high-scoring games have become increasingly commonplace, one constant from the past remains unchanged: The Baltimore Ravens own the best defense in the league.

Ever since Ray Lewis anchored the middle of a record-breaking defense that carried the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in 2000, Baltimore has prided itself in playing rugged, relentless and in-your-face defense.

This year is no exception.

The Ravens rank first in the NFL in total defense (300 yards per game) and fewest points allowed (18.1). While these numbers don't necessary stack up well against the 2000 team that surrendered only 247.9 yards and 10.3 points per game, the current unit can point to that 54-51 game between the Rams and Chiefs last Monday as proof that this year is unlike any other.

So, being known as the top-ranked defense still carries some weight in Baltimore.

"It's on our minds. It's one of the goals we set out to do," safety Eric Weddle said Wednesday. "We pride ourselves in how we work to try to end up being the No. 1 defense. So now we've got six weeks to continue to prove ourselves being one of the best."

Despite the play of the defense, Baltimore (5-5) is scrambling to end a three-year playoff drought. The Ravens limited Cincinnati to 255 yards last week in a 24-21 victory, and they'll seek to build on that Sunday against the Oakland Raiders (2-8).

"I really like the way they play," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "They have multiple fronts, multiple pressures and multiple coverages. And they have a lot of really good players."

Baltimore currently ranks third against the run, second against the pass and fourth in third-down efficiency at 36 percent.

"We stop the run most of the time and we cover tight most of the time. We keep pressure on quarterbacks most of the time," coach John Harbaugh said. "We do a good job of getting off the field, all in all."

What more could a coach ask?

"One of the biggest things is turnovers. That's something we focus on," Harbaugh said. "And we want to stop people in the red zone. Those are two areas we've been great at in the past."

This year, not so much. The Ravens have only five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, which leaves them with a minus-5 turnover differential.

Also, opponents have scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their trips inside the Baltimore 20.

"When those things start coming along, and if we continue to play at a high level in all the other areas, it's got the making of being a special defense," Weddle said.

Baltimore's defense works because first-year coordinator Don Martindale has been calling the right schemes for a unit that has strength on the line, in the middle and at the back end. Brandon Williams clogs the middle for linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and there's depth at cornerback with Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith.

"Guys on the front stop the run let our linebackers run, and we have guys that are able to cover," Weddle said. "This is the most veteran cornerback group that we've had here in a long time. It makes it fun. It's easy for us safety guys. We just roam around and help out the guys."

The key is that everyone knows their role and follows it.

"One of the things you have to do to be a top defense is communication," Mosley said. "If you have guys in the wrong spot, it won't work out."

That's not been an issue for a defense that brought Lewis to his feet last week in the owner's box.

"We've done a lot of good things," Martindale said. "Let's wait until after the season is over to see where we stand."


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