Ravens' defense creating new identity

OWINGS MILLS -- For six years, the Baltimore Ravens' defense has dealt with constant comparisons to their celebrated predecessors. Regardless of who's crunching the numbers or comparing personnel, the defense has always had that considerable shadow looking over their shoulders.

Heading into tonight's game against the Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) at Paul Brown Stadium, the Ravens (9-2) are intent on creating an identity separate from the dominant 2000 Super Bowl defense that set an NFL regular-season record with 165 points allowed.
A defense coordinated by Rex Ryan has maintained its status as one of the NFL's stingiest outfits. Baltimore ranks second overall in total defense behind the Chicago Bears, allowing 265 yards per game. With five games remaining, the Ravens have allowed 147 points.
"This defense right here is totally different," said seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who spearheaded the 2000 defense as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. "We have so much athleticism that it's almost scary."
With 30 takeaways, including a league-high 20 interceptions, and 14 turnovers, the Ravens lead the NFL in turnover ratio and have produced 39 sacks.
"This just let's you know that we're just starting," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It lets you know how physical you can be."
With athletic, versatile playmakers like Thomas (nine sacks), defensive end Trevor Pryce (8 ½ sacks), cornerback Chris McAlister (four interceptions), linebacker Bart Scott (6 ½ sacks, two interceptions), safety Ed Reed (two interceptions, one touchdown) and defensive end Terrell Suggs (six sacks) and Lewis, this defense is putting a major imprint on this season.
In 2000 with the Denver Broncos, Pryce finished third in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting with 12 sacks.
"Here, I'm just another guy," Pryce said. "That lets you know there are a lot of talented people here. This defense terrifies a lot of people."
The Ravens have allowed an average of 15.6 points per contest over the past five weeks, all victories.
In a 27-0 shutout of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they registered nine sacks. The shutout marks the first multiple shutout season since the 2000 campaign.
"They are still playing great," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. "They are one of the better defenses in the league and week in and week out, they play great and slow down offenses and shut them down."
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens reported no changes to their injury report, and offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (hamstring) remain questionable. However, Ravens coach Brian Billick expressed optimism that they might be available tonight.
Both were limited in practice along with tight end Todd Heap (back) and running back Jamal Lewis (foot). If Vincent is out again, promising rookie Chris Chester will start his third consecutive game.
QUICK HITS: For the second consecutive day, Billick complained about the timing of a Thursday game late in the season as the NFL Network broadcasts its second game ever while battling with cable companies to grow its audience.
"I don't think I'm being consulted on this one," Billick said. "For a league that places such a high priority on the health and safety of the players, this one pushes that a little bit." … Billick praised special-teams ace and reserve linebacker Gary Stills, who leads Baltimore with 32 tackles in kick coverage. "Maybe the best special-teams player in the league, in my opinion," he said. … With inclement weather predicted for tonight, Billick expressed concern about holding onto the football. "It could be huge," he said. "It could be a soaking rain. Obviously, turnovers could become huge." … Bengals safety Kevin Kaesviharn is tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions, interception three passes and registered 2 ½ sacks in the past two games.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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