Ravens' defense far from dominant

OWINGS MILLS -- The vicious hits, intimidation factor and barrage of turnovers are absent without leave from the Baltimore Ravens' defense. Billed as a unit that would dictate terms to offenses with an aggressive 46 scheme instituted by new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the winless Ravens have been relegated to solid, but far from great outings against two patient, decisive quarterbacks.

In last place in the AFC North, Baltimore (0-2) has been outdueled by the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Titans' Steve McNair.

The Ravens have generated only one sack and one turnover. Neither impacted the game. Defensive end Roderick Green chased McNair out of bounds. Free safety Will Demps recovered Titans running back Chris Brown's fumble.

Where's the swagger and ultra-destructive style for a defense that features All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed?

"Nobody takes our swagger, point blank, period," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. ‘That's not something that can be taken. It's something that we could give away, but that's not something we're willing to do.

"Our swagger is still the same. The swagger comes with confidence and we still have confidence in ourselves that we can make plays and win games."

Regardless of lingering confidence, the dominance simply hasn't been there.

Heading into Sunday's schedule of games, the Ravens ranked 18th in the league in total defense, allowing 315 yards per game and 4.9 yards per play.

Baltimore ranked 10th against the run, allowing 91.5 yards per game, and 21st against the pass with an average of 223.5 passing yards per game.

The lack of turnovers and sacks are the most glaring issue, though.

Baltimore is minus-5 in turnover margin, which tied them for fourth-worst in the league through two games. The Ravens were tied with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders for last in the league in sacks.

"We'll see where the numbers are at the end of the season," Ryan said. "We'll see then who can and can't rush the passer. We're going to build, correct some mistakes and tighten up the package and move forward."

Quarterbacks have been wise to avoid Reed, who intercepted nine passes last season. They've consciously kept the football away from a player who's a constant threat to score.

"It's frustrating for us because we want to see you challenge Ed down the field," Ryan said. "Obviously, Tennessee was smart and their game plan was to avoid him. If that's the M.O. of a team, then we're going to change Ed's responsibilities."

Ryan declined to specify what might change, but it's a fairly safe bet that Reed could be used more extensively in blitz packages.

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs is preaching patience as he contends with three-step drops and quarterbacks who are adept at quickly getting the football out of their hands. After generating 22 ½ sacks in his first two season, Suggs has been blanked.

"Offenses have been scheming us," Suggs said. "But once we get it rolling, it's rolling. Then, you'll be asking me different kinds of questions. You'll be asking me why is this pass rush so good?

"How many Peyton Mannings are in this league? We're not going to face a Peyton Manning every week. With the quarterbacks we've got left, we've just got to play football."

Against Tennessee, the Ravens surrendered 228 yards in the first half and allowed the Titans to convert 5 of 9 third downs. In the second half, Baltimore tightened up and didn't allow a first down on the first three possessions en route to limiting them to 62 yards after halftime.

However, McNair broke containment too often and scampered past defensive end Tony Weaver in the open field a couple of times.

"When you get the opportunities, you've got to lay him down and we had a couple of chances to sack him," Ryan said. "He flat avoided us. We kind of anticipated not getting any sacks against Peyton Manning."

Following the Colts game when Reed and cornerback Chris McAlister dropped potential game-changing interceptions, Lewis said the measure of a great defense is the one that makes those plays. Otherwise, Lewis said, it's simply a good defense.

Suggs said the lack of big plays isn't attributable to a learning curve during the switch from the 3-4 to 4-3 and 46 alignments.

"We're going to get on the same page," Suggs said. "All I know is we better get it going. Once we get it going, it will snowball."

The Ravens have allowed three touchdown passes, five passes of 20 yards or more, including a 35-yard catch by the Titans' Drew Bennett where he split nickel back Deion Sanders and safety Chad Williams.

Sanders, 38, hasn't looked comfortable covering the slot receiver after a career spent covering outside receivers.

"Deion's not Superman," Ryan said. "Granted, he's probably the best corner that's ever played the game, but he's not perfect. Overall, he's playing very well."

Sanders, who has 51 career interceptions, has seven tackles and no pass deflections.

"Playing the nickel is different than anything I've ever done before," Sanders said. "I'm getting comfortable with it. We have very high standards on this defense and we'll reach them."

There have been miscommunications in a secondary that includes five former Pro Bowl selections. Newcomer Samari Rolle has been the major bright spot.

The Ravens said it's critical that they stay true to the defensive philosophy and not freelance, which entails going for the glory hit or interception at the expense of the team. That's a problem that has occurred often in the past, particularly when frustration mounted about a moribund offense.

"Our thing is just staying within the scheme of the defense and not freelancing," Thomas said. "It's easy to freelance when things aren't going our way, but our time will come."

NOTE: The Ravens are still looking for a kickoff specialist to give kicker Matt Stover a break. They tried out former Minnesota Vikings kicker Aaron Elling last week.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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