Gridiron Goose's Ravens-Bengals Pre-Game Report

As Baltimore entered their training camp last July, no one gave their defense much, if any chance of performing well. After all, only 4 of their 11 starters from the 2001 season returned. In addition, Marvin Lewis, the only defensive coordinator in Baltimore's 6-year history, split for Washington.

 It was Baltimore's offense that was supposed to carry the load, especially with "Giveaway" Grbac gone and Jamal Lewis returning. But that didn't happen. 18 weeks later we find just the opposite.
 
While the offense is barely on life-support, their defense has continuously put their team in position to win. Up till now, when the Ravens have needed a big play, sack, interception, whatever, it's their defense that has risen to the challenge. Opposing offenses have been able to pile up some serious yardage and have pretty much taken control of the clock, which has forced Baltimore's defense to spend a lot of time on the field.
 
Despite that, the Ravens have excelled by playing as a unit. 12 different players have 1 or more interception (most NFL), led by rookie FS Ed Reed, who just this past Sunday against the Titans, scored the game's only touchdown by blocking a Hentrich punt, and then returned it for the score. 13 different Raven players have a .5 sack, or more (Tied most NFL w/ GB, JAX, TEN).
 
So, when thanking whomever is responsible for bringing this corps of young, inexperienced players together, look no further then Mike Nolan. Some of you'll note, Nolan was Baltimore's wide receivers coach last season, after holding various defensive assistant coaching jobs with the Redskins, Jets and Giants. Many of you are too young to remember his father, Dick Nolan, who did time as head coach of the 49ers and Saints  in the late 60's and 70's.
 
What Nolan has brought is a new philosophy, one that is more aggressive, and more attack-mode than his predecessor. Where Lewis' style was more military-like, relying on brute-force and the such, Nolan is more of a teacher, preferring the stealth and ambush approach, utilizing on speed rather than size. It is that very speed that has made Nolan's insertion on the 3-4 so successful, even though he admittedly uses it less than 50% of the time. No matter what formation he implements, his young players have responded in a big way. Players like ILB Ed Hartwell, OLB/DE Peter Boulware, DEs Thomas and Weaver, and DBs Baxter and Reed have flourished under Nolan‘s system. Even undrafted rookie SS Will Demps has emerged into a high-caliber player. Sure, there have been less than stellar performances, like their 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay, even though the defense allowed just 1 touchdown, and against the Steelers, even though they had nothing to do with their offense's 5 turnovers, and against Miami, which they seemed to ease up with the return of Ray Lewis. Nevertheless, holding offenses like Denver, Indy and Jacksonville to 23, 22 and 10 points, respectively, cannot be ignored. The same applies for holding Michael Vick in check (24-12 136 passing, 7-(-5) yards rushing) and keeping Tennessee out of the end zone.
 
For the 2nd time in 21 days, the Ravens face off against the accident-prone Bengals, this Sunday, in Cincinnati. Surely, Baltimore's defense will be able to hold their own. But can their offense? Stay tuned.

Thanks to Brian Slack, better known as Gridiron Goose for contributing this article. We hope to see much more of his stuff here at Ravens Insider in the near future. Brian has an informative weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to by dropping him a line at gridirongoose@msn.com

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