Can Ravens defense carry them to another Super Bowl?

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Michael Pierce /

After a dominant start in Cincinnati, can the Baltimore Ravens defense continue on an upward trend and propel them to another Super Bowl?

The Baltimore Ravens defense shut out the Bengals in Cincinnati and it was an utterly dominant display on defense throughout. Led by veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who had two sacks and a forced fumble, the front seven hit Andy Dalton often and painfully.

In all, Dalton was sacked five times and tossed four interceptions. The first occasion in franchise history that the defense has had at least five sacks and four picks in a game.

Additionally, this is just the third time the Ravens have pitched a shut out in week one of an NFL season. The other instances being the historically great 2000 defense, and the 2006  group which ranked number one in the league.

So, much can be expected from this group that is ‘special’, according to DT Brandon Williams.

This unit has been talking itself up all offseason and despite the hype around Baltimore, it hadn’t garnered much national attention. However, after that bullying display, the league has been put on notice.

There are pass rushers a plenty, a youthful energy mixed with some savvy veterans and a strong secondary.

But, can this unit emulate the Baltimore defenses of the past and carry a pedestrian offense to a Super Bowl?

‘Defense wins championships’

The old adage never fails to come to fruition. Dominant defensive units nearly always trump explosive offenses.

The 2013 Broncos and 2015 Panthers can certainly attest to that. Both high-powered offenses were dominated by two of the most fearsome defenses ever seen in the big game.

This 2017 Ravens group has a lot to live up to reach the dizzy heights set by the 2000 group. A unit that featured no less than six pro bowlers. This included Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

They allowed just three teams to score 20 points on them all year. As well as setting NFL records for the fewest points and rushing yards allowed in a season.

Marvin Lewis’ group shut out four teams on their way to a 12-4 record before strangling the Giants in the Super Bowl, coming out 34-7 winners.

Kerry Collins was picked off four times and sacked a further four in a total mismatch.

So, for the Ravens defense to believe they have the ability to match this unit is a huge statement.

But, with a tireless veteran leader who simply refuses to age, and a group of rising stars led by middle linebacker CJ Mosley, they certainly have the personnel to be one of the league’s best in 2017.

Tough path ahead

The path to championship Sunday is undoubtedly clearer in the AFC than the crowded NFC.  Baltimore certainly has the tools and experience to topple all comers in the postseason.

However, for them, it might just be about getting into the playoffs initially. This team is offensively limited, much like its 2000 and 2012 counterparts, and will find itself in a bunch of low scoring, tight affairs.

The pressure on the Ravens defense to create takeaways and score points is palpable because of this. But with a pair of ball hawking safeties in Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, and a front seven with takeaway abilities of its own, this should be a top five scoring defense capable of winning its fair share of games and relieving stress on Joe Flacco and the offense.

Speaking of Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP has an impressive 10-5 postseason record. This includes two wins at Foxborough against the Patriots, and two further close losses to Tom Brady and co.

Only Peyton Manning has more postseason wins over Brady than Flacco. Highlighting how well he plays New England. And more importantly, how well the Ravens defense plays the Patriots to keep them in tight games.

This is important to note as Baltimore is not likely to win the AFC North over the Steelers. So likely, will face a path to the Super Bowl that is on the road all the way.

Luckily, of Flacco’s 15 postseason appearances, only 2 have come at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are 8-5 on the road in the playoffs including Super Bowls since the former Delaware signal caller was drafted.

They are accustomed to playing away from home and thrive in the role of the underdog. This suits a defensive football team and could be the way the Ravens reach the Super Bowl come February.

Bottom line

The roster is extremely deep on this side of the ball at almost every position on the Ravens defense. There are veterans and young stars in every position group and promising rookies to return from injury.

Dean Pees’ unit will be bolstered by 2017 third round picks Tim Williams and Chris Wormley, as well as 2016 third rounder Bronson Kaufusi, who will add yet more options up front. All three are yet to play a down in the regular season and will give more menace to an already diverse pass rush.

Suggs, Williams, Mosley and Michael Pierce highlight a top five front seven, and when you consider the talent in the secondary, it sets in that this is as complete a unit as in the NFL.

The duo of Weddle and Jefferson patrolling the middle of the field along with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, who ranked number 7 overall in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 at his position, and Brandon Carr, is a formidable quartet particularly in pass coverage.

Carr himself was ranked number 18 in Pro Football Focus’ top 25 cornerbacks of 2016 list. First round pick Marlon Humphrey will also add depth to this uber-talented position group.

Going beyond the starters, the young talent up front continues with linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Tyus Bowzer. And, on the back-end, nine-year veteran corner Lardarius Webb is yet another reliable option for Dean Pees.

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The comparisons with the 2000 Ravens defense will allude to the leaders and how much they influenced the defense. Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson are Hall of Fame players, but Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley and Eric Weddle are All-Pro’s who can lead the 2017 version of the Ravens defense to a similar level of success.

If they can keep getting to the quarterback with such frightening regularity and creating takeaways, and Suggs stays healthy, this defense has a chance to be a Super Bowl winning one.

They have all the ingredients required and a chip on their shoulder that makes them dangerous come playoff time.

Suggs and co could well be legendary when all is said and done at the season’s end in Minnesota.

So, can this defense carry the Ravens to another Super Bowl? Early signs suggest it could, but it remains to be seen if they can maintain their early dominance. In the end, the experience of their defensive leaders and coaching staff could be telling.

Expect this team to be at its best in January and make a deep playoff run.