Ravens' defense wakes up just in time

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Since the Baltimore Ravens' defense was figuratively and literally shedding blood, it took a halftime transfusion of chalk to revive them. After being gashed for 26 points and 267 yards during the first half, the Ravens relied on halftime adjustments from the coaching staff to awaken from their slumber in a 27-26 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

In the second half, the Ravens (7-2) shut out the Titans and held them to 100 yards of total offense.
With seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis out with a back injury and his replacement, Mike Smith, going down after five plays with a dislocated shoulder, former practice squad member Dennis Haley filled in capably with a career-high nine tackles and two pass deflections.
However, the defense still gave up 367 yards of total offense, which marks the third consecutive game the Ravens managed to win despite giving up nearly 400 yards of total offense. This latest output was surrendered against the NFL's 28th-ranked offense.
"I don't want to make excuses for it, we needed to play better," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You go through the whole week anticipating Ray could be there. You have Mike Smith ready. Mike Smith goes in and after five plays, he's gone. Now, Dennis Haley has to step in.
"All of a sudden, your game plan, what you intended to do, gets very, very short in terms of your calls. The defensive staff did a magnificent job at halftime of adjusting, ‘OK, here's what we have to do.' That's not subtle. You nurture the mentality of, ‘Next man up, no problem,' but that was a lot."
The Ravens allowed their first 100-yard rusher since last December (Houston Texans' Domanick Davis, 155 yards) as Travis Henry generated 107 yards on 27 carries.
The defensive line got pushed around in the first half, and the linebackers and safeties struggled to contain multi-dimensional Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young in the open field. In the second quarter, Young gamely squirmed out of linebacker Adalius Thomas' grasp to flip the football to tight end Bo Scaife for a 13-yard touchdown run.
"You go through struggles at points and times," said Haley, who was promoted to the active roster Saturday. "That's the character of our team: to push through. We made things happen."
Plus, cornerback Samari Rolle had trouble staying with Titans receiver Drew Bennett (six catches, 115 yards). During the previous two games, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers passed for 368 yards and 365 yards, respectively, against an inconsistent Baltimore secondary that features three former Pro Bowl selections.
Still, the Ravens settled down in time to win this game as Young passed for 211 yards on 15 of 23 accuracy with no touchdowns and one interception that defensive tackle Haloti Ngata deflected into safety Ed Reed's hands.
"The biggest thing is that we just told ourselves that we're giving them everything," Rolle said. "Guys just realized that this is too big an opportunity to let slip away, to be able to go 7-2 and be on top of our division. It was a hard-fought game."
Once the Ravens absorbed the Titans' initial shot and began deciphering their game plan, Tennessee rarely threatened from that point onward.
"It was tough," linebacker Bart Scott said. "They came out with a great game plan. We were able to get things back in order when we came in at halftime. They shot their wad in the first half. We took their best shot on the chin."
NOTES: Billick is hopeful that Trevor Pryce's blocked field goal will serve as a teaching tool when it comes to special teams coordinator Frank Gansz's schemes. "He's manic about it," Billick said. "He dog-cusses them constantly and they take it because he also loves them up. For the first-string defense, sometimes it's one of those, ‘OK, yeah, yeah, yeah.' That has some great repercussion in terms of reinforcing these little details are important." … With seven games remaining and the easiest schedule statistically in the league, the Ravens are in the driver's seat in the AFC North ahead of Cincinnati (4-5), Pittsburgh (3-6) and Cleveland (3-6). That doesn't mean they intend to relax, though. "For those who choose to bet on this league, I don't know how you sleep at night," Billick said. "How do you put hard-earned money on, ‘This team's supposed to beat this team.' Our players live it and they know how tenuous every week is, so they will be very focused on Atlanta."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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