Midseason Report Card: Defense

Dev Panchwagh whipped his Sharpie pen out of his sock, a la Terrell Owens, and gave his first half grades for the Ravens this season.

Defensive Line: The most barren unit on the team going into the season was the defensive line which was ravaged in the offseason, along with half of the Ravens' roster, due to salary cap constraints.


Out went stalwarts like Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Larry Webster and an emerging player in Lional Dalton.


In came life long backups named Kelly Gregg, Marques Douglas and Riddick Parker and raw talents like Anthony Weaver and Ma'ake Kemoeatu.


Though the new line doesn't exactly resemble the fearsome foursome, let alone a top 15 unit in the NFL, defensive line coach Rex Ryan is certainly getting the most out of his players.


Gregg and Kemoeatu are feisty nose tackles that lack the ideal size to play the position, but both use solid technique and leverage to make it tough for centers to move them around consistently.


Up until suffering a torn ACL, Douglas acted as a fairly serviceable backup who helped to stop the run and take on blockers. Parker has filled Douglas' place and for the most part, he's got the same exact responsibilities to fulfill coming off the bench.


Weaver, the team's second round pick from April's draft, has proven to be a rock-solid player who could remain a starter at the left defensive end spot through his tenure in Baltimore. Weaver uses his hands well, has an explosive burst once the ball is snapped and has been quite stout against the run.


The one mainstay that Ryan had to count on was Michael McCrary, a two time Pro Bowl defensive end who at his peak was regarded as one of the top 3-4 pure pass rushers in the NFL. However, McCrary has been hampered by knee ailments the entire season, and thus the door has now been opened for Adalius Thomas to take over as the Ravens' main sack man off the edge.


Thomas has had his moments this season, showing off his nasty 4.5 speed coming off the edge and his ability to run sideline to sideline like a linebacker. However, Thomas also lacks good technique when going up against opposing tackles and the focus to further maximize his potential.


Grade: C+


Linebackers: The backbone of this defense has always been its linebacker core, ever since Ray Lewis stepped onto the field as a rookie starter for the Ravens back in 1996.


The beat keeps going this season, despite the fact that the club had to part ways with its starting weakside backer, Jamie Sharper.


Lewis, despite missing four games this season, has still been a force in the middle of the 3-4 configuration deployed by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His combination of strength, desire, speed and ferocity makes him the premiere defender in the NFL today, with no peers behind him. Before dislocating his shoulder against Cleveland, Lewis was easily on pace to shatter his old record for tackles recorded in one season and to win his second defensive player of the year award.


Now, his season could quite possibly be in jeopardy.


Lewis' counterpart in the middle, Edgarton Hartwell, has led the team in tackles since Lewis' departure out of the lineup. There were some doubts that Hartwell lacked the size and pass rushing skills to be a force alongside Lewis, but he's cast all those doubts aside.

Hartwell's game is tailored very closely to Lewis'. Hartwell is an explosive hitter that shoots through the gaps quickly, and can chase players in space just as well as Sharper could. With a little bit more seasoning, Hartwell has the upside to become a Pro Bowl defender.


Meanwhile, Boulware is having another solid season. He's on pace to finish with 11 sacks and with Lewis out, he has taken on an even bigger leadership role.

Along side Boulware at the other outside linebacker spot is Cornell Brown, who after being a reliable backup for a number of seasons, has been given the chance to become a fulltime starter. Brown is making the most out of his opportunity. While he's only a decent pass rusher, what Brown brings to the table is physicality and energy, along with the coverage skills to stay with most tight ends and backs coming out of the backfield.

At the backup positions, the Ravens have received a significant contribution from Bernardo Harris, Shannon Taylor and Bart Scott all season long.


Grade: B+


Secondary: You would think that with two rookie safeties and a first year cornerback manning three out of the four positions in the secondary, the pass defense would be awful, especially during the first half of the season.


That hasn't been the case though. Will Demps and Ed Reed are inexperienced safeties, but both players are more mature than your average rookie DB.


While Demps lacks great physical skills, he has a nose for the football and his recognition and diagnostic skills are tremendous. He is also solid against the run and wraps up ball carriers firmly when he has them in his grasp.


Reed on the other hand has all the physical tools you would seek out of your prototypical safety, whether on the strong or weakside of the field. He's fluid in coverage, a tremendous blitzer off the edge and hits like a Mac truck.  


Because both players are so sound in coverage, the Ravens can flip both safeties at either position without skipping a beat. The depth behind Demps and Reed is so shallow that the coaches can use Chad Williams, another talented rookie, in dime/nickel packages and Anthony Mitchell to help stop the run.


At cornerback, the Ravens are getting solid mileage out of first year starter Gary Baxter. Baxter has the size/speed combination to run with most receivers down the field and to stop the run at the line of scrimmage. However, he stills tends to wait too long to make a break on the ball when it comes his way, and he can be schooled when he plays off of the receiver in coverage.


Chris McAlister was a known entity coming into the season, but the question was whether he would finally become a consistent shutdown corner, similar to a Champ Bailey or a Charles Woodson.


While he's still not as good as those two, McAlister is having his best season as a pro, shutting down players like Rod Smith, Keyshawn Johnson and Jimmy Smith in one on one coverage situations. Aside from two bad first halves against Muhsin Mohammad and Plaxico Burress, McAlister has had close to a flawless year.


Grade: B-


Three Forecasts for the Second Half


  1. Peter Boulware will come close to registering 15 sacks for a second consecutive season. While at the moment he is only on pace to record 11, he has yet to have a breakout game which could put his recorded number of sacks over the top. Expect at least two 3 sack games from No.58 in the second half.  


  1. The Ravens will realize that they need another big time pass rusher to compliment Boulware, thanks to Michael McCrary's unreliability to start any games the rest of the way. Look for McCrary to retire in the offseason and Baltimore to find his replacement through free agency.


   3.   Chris McAlister will be selected to play in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

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