Landry an instant hit with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- In a blur of pivotal interceptions and crunching tackles, hard-hitting strong safety Dawan Landry has more than justified the Baltimore Ravens entrusting so much responsibility to a rookie. Nine months after Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome's announcement that the fifth-round pick would be counted on to start, Landry has grown beyond the pleasant-surprise category.

The former Georgia Tech standout has established himself as an indispensable member of the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Landry's fifth interception of the year came during Sunday's 31-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, tying him for the franchise rookie record for interceptions with an exclusive fraternity that includes: former NFL Defensive Player of the Year safety Ed Reed (2002), Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister Ed Reed (1999) and cornerback Duane Starks, who started on the Ravens' Super Bowl team.
"He's a rookie, but sooner or later, he's going to start getting that respect, the same respect that I have," said Reed, who returned an interception 37 yards and a fumble recovery 32 yards against the Steelers. "Like we always talk about, when me and him are making plays, it's going to be hard for people to throw the ball in the future."
It's hard enough for quarterbacks to throw the football against the Ravens' secondary in the present.
Landry, who also registered his third sack of the year Sunday, returned a Ben Roethlisberger interception 36 yards in the fourth quarter. His dash up the sidelines appeared initially to be a touchdown, but it was nullified by an instant replay review that revealed he stepped out of bounds at the Steelers' 1-yard line.
"The kid came up big for us," McAlister said.
Through 11 games, Landry is tied for fifth in tackles with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs with 80 stops to go along with 12 pass deflections. And Baltimore (12-3) is seeded second in the AFC and poised for a first-round bye provided that it wins the regular-season finale Sunday over the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
When the Ravens drafted Landry, he didn't have grand designs on playing a vital role on the AFC North champions.
"I'd be lying if I said I did," Landry said. "I just came in wanting to play hard and help my team win. That's what's been happening, and success came with it."
Landry has a humble, approachable personality, but he sounded like a proud, wise veteran when describing how he picked off Roethlisberger's pass attempt.
"I kind of baited him," Landry said with a smile while noting that defensive end Trevor Pryce aided his cause by slamming into Roethlisberger to affect his followthrough.
The Steelers converted only 14.3 percent of their third downs (2 of 14) with both conversions coming off penalties as Landry helped limit tight end Heath Miller to three catches for 12 yards.
"I just feel comfortable out there," Landry said. "I feel comfortable with these guys that I play with, and they have confidence in me. That's allowed me to play freely."
With one game remaining, McAlister and Reed are tied with Landry for the team lead in interceptions. The Ravens lead the NFL with 26 interceptions.
Landry's development isn't categorized as a surprise by his teammates. Not any more, not for a long time actually.
"From the first week, you could see his maturity," McAlister said. "He picked up the defense extremely fast. Nobody expected him to come out and get five interceptions and play as solid as he has. He's definitely gone above and beyond anybody's expectations, but at this point, we just kind of expect it out of him."
NOTES: Rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the team's first-round draft pick, recorded his first NFL sack. … The Ravens posted a season-high 23 first downs. … Players and coaches were given Christmas off and return to practice Wednesday. … Rookie return specialist Cory Ross averaged only two yards on three returns with one fair catch. He returned one kickoff 24 yards. … One week after suffering a neck stinger, cornerback Samari Rolle led the Ravens with seven tackles. … Fullback Ovie Mughelli rushed for 21 yards on four carries, while also clearing a path for Jamal Lewis to rush for 77 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Mughelli also caught one pass for 13 yards. … Rookie punter Sam Koch averaged 46 yards on four punts, downing two punts inside the Steelers' 20-yard line with one touchback. … Steelers coach Bill Cowher met with Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis after the game, but declined to elaborate on what they talked about. This could be Cowher's final season coaching the Steelers as his contract expires and he's expected to ponder retirement. "Nothing that I need to share," Cowher said. "I have a lot of respect for him as a football player and as a person."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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