Regardless of whether the Ravens' current defense ever approaches the lofty heights of the 2000 defense that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed, the fact that they're even being mentioned in comparison conversations is an encouraging sign.
"We have an unbelievable respect for those guys," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "When we talk about the Ravens' defense and the history we have, it all started with those guys. They set the bar, and they set it as high as you can set it. We're trying to beat that.
"It's tough to do. They had a lot of really good veteran players. They had some extremely physical guys and had a great scheme to go along with it. You want to be your own self, but if we play anywhere near those guys we're going to be a good defense."
It was only two weeks ago that the Ravens' defense was drawing heavy criticism after being picked apart by Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in a loss.
Now, the defense is being heralded around the NFL after setting a franchise record by scoring three touchdowns during a 34-17 victory Sunday over the Jets where they terrorized quarterback Mark Sanchez.
The Ravens (3-1) scored touchdowns on fumble returns by linebacker Jameel McClain and Johnson and an interception return by cornerback Lardarius Webb as he dashed 73 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens stonewalled the Jets, holding them to 150 yards of total offense and a mere seven first downs with two gained after halftime. They rushed for only 38 yards.
Afterward, Jets coach Rex Ryan, the brash former Baltimore defensive coordinator and defensive line coach for the Ravens' Super Bowl team, when he guided Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett, spoke highly of this defense.
Ryan didn't hesitate to broach the topic of the 2000 defense that allowed only 165 points and shut out four opponents, or the 2006 team that finished first in the NFL in total defense as that team went 13-3.
"I've been around football a long time and I've never seen anything like that before," Ryan said. "The performance by their defense was spectacular. They were coming after us. That's that Raven defense. It reminded me of the 2000 and 2006 defenses. We got it handed to us."
The Jets aren't alone in that category.
The Ravens set a franchise record with seven turnovers in a stomping of the Pittsburgh Steelers to launch the season. And they shut down the St. Louis Rams' offense, forcing them to abandon their no-huddle attack.
A quarter through the season, the Ravens rank third in the NFL in yards allowed with 284.5 yards of total offense surrendered per contest, second in scoring defense, allowing just 14.3 points per contest and rank first with 14 takeaways. They're third in rushing defense, giving up 72.5 yards per game on the ground and tied for seventh in pass defense with a 212 average given up per game.
"We can be special, but it all depends on where we go from here," said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who leads the Ravens with four sacks. "We can't take any steps back because that's not how championship teams are built. Not in this league. You've got to make the momentum snowball."
Whether the Ravens legitimately belong in the annals of defensive history with the 2000 squad that featured a secondary with Rod Woodson, Chris McAlister and Duane Starks and linebackers Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, this defense is building a strong identity of its own.
Just ask Sanchez, who was hit 10 times and sacked twice as he completed only 11 of 35 passes for 119 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a horrible 30.5 passer rating.
Under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, this defense definitely has gotten back to its aggressive roots with fearless blitz packages. Pagano is following in the footsteps of former Ravens defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Ryan, who all went on to become NFL head coaches.
And they've done it while shorthanded in the secondary with rookie first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith out since the first game with a high left ankle sprain and cornerback Chris Carr hobbled with a strained left hamstring.
"The best defensive performance is the next one," Lewis said. "We are looking to get some rest, come back completely healthy. We are really looking forward to that."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is reluctant to compare this defense to previous ones other than pinning the leadership brand on Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"You've got to be careful about putting labels on any of that stuff," Harbaugh said. "If you're going to put any label on it, put Ray's label on it. That to me is the thread that probably runs through this defense. There have been a lot of people who have put their fingerprints on it and a lot of people who have had a lot of input over the years.
"Those guys played just the way you want to see them play. It was fast, it was aggressive, it was physical, it was with abandon. Yet, it was with great discipline and attention to detail. To me, those are the things that make for great defense."
The Jets averaged a minuscule 2.7 yards per offensive play and converted only four of 15 third downs.
The way the defense suffocated the Jets hearkened back to the Ravens' stingy tradition.
"It's about carrying on tradition, you know," McClain said. "You don't step into a position like this halfway. You know everything that this defense has done, and you know what this organization is about. It's an honor to be here coming from where we've came from, our humble backgrounds. Where can it go in the future? Obviously, going up to the top."
Ravens notebook: Harbaugh not worried about Flacco
By Aaron Wilson
OWINGS MILLS - An ice age enveloped Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday night.
Flacco threw a dozen consecutive incomplete passes during the Ravens' 34-17 victory over the New York Jets, going the entire second and third quarters without connecting with his targets.
Flacco finished 10 for 31 for 163 yards, no touchdowns and one interception that was returned for a touchdown, bad enough for an unsightly 37.4 passer rating.
"Obviously, it was a cold streak," Flacco said. "We had opportunities to make plays, but we didn't make them. They forced me to throw a decent amount of balls away. You don't plan on missing 12 in a row. I don't think you ever dismiss anything, but you do have to realize they're a good defense. We were a little out of order in the second and third quarter."
Now, Flacco has dipped below a 50 percent completion percentage for the season with a 49.3 percent success rate.
That ranks him worst among NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 throws, and he's only more accurate than Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Kerry Collins.
While the Jets have a strong defense that features All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, that only explains so much.
The Ravens are taking some lower-percentage shots downfield, and Flacco is also getting acclimated to new personnel at wide receiver and tight end.
"I don't think we're too worried about it," Harbaugh said. "We want the percentage to be higher, but you can be 70 percent and averaging four yards of completion or something like that. We're not really interested in that. We want to attack people."
The Ravens' top offensive play was a 52-yard gain on a short throw to running back Ray Rice out of the slot as he beat safety Eric Smith.
Flacco bought time with his feet on that one, improvising.
"Ray was running a little option route out of the backfield and they just grabbed him, and threw him to the ground pretty much," Flacco said. "And every other route over there got cloudy at that point, and I tried to move around to make a play and see somebody get open.
"We were able to hit Ray coming back downhill. He did a great job of trying to find my eyes, stay in vision of me, and work back downhill to the ball."
In the second quarter, though, Flacco went 0 for 10 and had an interception returned 35 yards for a touchdown by Jets inside linebacker David Harris.
Flacco threw incomplete twice on deep throws to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith.
"A lot of incompletions were on shot plays where they're high risk-high reward plays," Harbaugh said. "They've low probability of completion, but when you get it, it's a touchdown."
The Ravens cut wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, two of Flacco's favorite targets, before training camp.
And Flacco has played without Lee Evans for most of the season due to his lingering ankle injury.
"We have not grown into our, I don't want to say "easy" completions, but that's something you kind of grow into," Harbaugh said. "You have those routes with those guys where that timing is right there and you kind of have a sixth sense about them."
TIME OFF: Harbaugh granted the team the entire week off following meetings and a running session Monday.
Harbaugh was influenced by injuries to Evans, cornerback Jimmy Smith (high ankle sprain), offensive guard Ben Grubbs (right turf toe), wide receiver David Reed (left shoulder), safety Haruki Nakamura (sprained posterior cruciate ligament, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring) and safety Tom Zbikowski (concussion).
"I'll tell you, nobody likes practice more than me," Harbaugh said. "With our numbers, we just didn't see a way to put together a viable practice. Our rehab is more important. We think the practices really would have done us more harm than they would have done us good."
The Ravens' training complex will remain open for those that want to lift weights or review game videos or have rehab work to do.
Known as a taskmaster disciplinarian, Harbaugh's decision surprised players.
"Shock, first of all," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I think it was a very wise decision. It's easy to say we're just going to work, we're just going to grind and grind and grind. That just shows the maturity of coach Harbaugh to say, ‘What's best for this team?'
"I think it shows a lot of trust on our coaches' part because they know we're going to go home and work out and keep in shape and do as much as you can to improve your body going down this stretch, but I was pretty shocked."
Harbaugh remains optimistic that all of the players could possibly return for the Ravens' Oct. 16 home game against the Houston Texans following the bye.
"I'd probably be a little disappointed if we don't get them all back," Harbaugh said. "Probably the No. 1 goal this week is to improve the health of our football team."
KICKOFF COVERAGE BREAKS DOWN: It was an ugly breakdown in kick coverage as the Ravens surrendered a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Jets running back Joe McKnight, the longest play allowed in franchise history.
Linebackers Albert McClellan and Brendon Ayanbadejo got blocked, and safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerback Chykie Brown lost containment as McKnight sprinted to the end zone.
Disappointed about the mistakes, Harbaugh vowed to fix the problem.
"We didn't fit it very well at all," Harbaugh said. "I would say it was poor kickoff coverage. We had a safety get too deep on the right side, we had a safety on the left side get completely ear-holed, but there were two inexperienced guys who have never played kickoff coverage in the National Football League before playing safety for us, and they were both out of position badly. They double-teamed Brendon right at the point of attack and then peeled back and knocked him out of the play.
"It was a tremendous block by their guy. Albert made a bad decision on the wedge. He got walled and kicked out on the wedge, and that's where the ball ran - between Albert and between Brendon. And then the two safeties weren't there to make the play, and it was Billy [Cundiff] all by himself. So, it wasn't lack of effort. It was great execution by them, but it was poor coverage by us."
NO UPDATE ON ZBIKOWSKI: Strong safety Tom Zbikowski incurred a concussion against the Jets and didn't return.
However, Harbaugh shed no light on his condition Monday when asked if about his symptoms.
"I have not heard anything along those lines," Harbaugh said. "So, I don't have any information for you on that."
If Zbikowski is sidelined, the Ravens can go with Bernard Pollard at strong safety against the Texans. Pollard started against the Jets and recorded three tackles as Zbikowski was utilized in the nickel package.
"Bernard's just a physical presence out there," Harbaugh said. "He makes his presence felt every single play - whether he's blitzing, where he's coming up in run defense, but also in coverage. He was a factor in coverage back there. He played very well. I think he's really starting to learn our system coverage-wise back there, and he obviously showed up last night and played very well."
SMITH ON THE MEND: Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' first-round draft pick, has been running on a treadmill and is hopeful of returning for the Texans game.
It's unclear, though, if he'll be back that soon.
"I am looking forward to seeing all these guys get back," Harbaugh said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing Jimmy get back and play and really begin his development as a player. I hope that everybody will understand that is going to be his first game playing. When he comes back, we will try to work him in there in the way that it is best for our team and the best for him becoming the player he can become. We'll just have to see to what extent that is and when we get into that situation."
KNDLE DEBUT: Out for his entire rookie season with a fractured skull, linebacker Sergio Kindle was active for the first time in an NFL regular-season game.
Kindle had been inactive for each of the first three games.
Kindle spent his rookie season on injured reserve after being drafted in the second round and suffering damage to his skull and experiencing hearing loss in his left ear.
Against the Jets, the former University of Texans star covered kickoffs and rushed the passer a few times as he finished with no tackles.
"It's just a blessing to be active, to finally get some wear and tear on my cleats besides the practice facility," Kindle said. "I got my feet wet, that's what matters. I waited a long time for this. I would say it was emotional.
"I was excited, anxious, jittery, but just happy because it's been a long, long time. I waited for this day for a long time and now it finally got here."
Harbaugh said Kindle played fine.
"We think he's a very good player," Harbaugh said. "In the context of what I said, hopefully you guys will put it in context, it is always a competitive situation. So, the guys that were active were bringing more to the table than he was, at this time. He's a young player. He did a nice job in kickoff coverage and ran down there hard.
"He had a couple of plays at the end and really brought it in the pass rush. So, that's a good first step for him to get his feet wet, and it will be fun to see how he can respond to that, because sometimes when you play a game, now you've got a little different perspective as far as practice and developing your game a little bit."
STAYING BUSY: The coaching staff won't take the week off.
They'll spend the week studying the team: self-scouting and also preparing for the Ravens' next game against the Houston Texans.
"We will take the next three to four days working on Houston and then working on self-scout: studying ourselves and tendencies and things like that, and really areas where we can get better," Harbaugh said. "We built both of our schemes for the first four games, so we will have to kind of take a look now and see, ‘OK, what do we like, what don't we like, what do we want to add?' and kind of look at the next four weeks and see what kind of broad package we want to put together."
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