Ravens' defensive reign continues

OWINGS MILLS -- The feeding frenzy has already started, and the dorsal fins are circling the blood in the water. The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked defense has treated every game like a personal grudge match: intimidating quarterbacks, gang-tackling running backs and leveling receivers that dare to traverse the middle.

"The sharks are going to feast," linebacker Bart Scott said. "That's what we do." The Ravens made a tasty entrée out of the Cleveland Browns during a 28-10 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium after using the Cincinnati Bengals as an appetizer.

After two games, the Ravens have allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL with 161.5 per contest, the least passing yards allowed with a 90.0 average and the fifth-lowest rushing yards with a 71.5 average.

Although the Ravens have a new coach in John Harbaugh, their reliance on defense hasn't changed a bit. The defense is a major reason why the Ravens (2-0) are undefeated and atop the AFC North heading into next Monday night's showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) at Heinz Field.

"Ever since the Ravens started playing football in the '90s, they've played great defense," Harbaugh said. "It's a tradition, and it's a challenge to them to uphold that tradition.

"We're only two games in. We've got a long way to go, but they've played really well the first two weeks."

Opposing quarterbacks have produced a combined 26.6 rating with four interceptions and seven sacks.

The Ravens limited Browns quarterback Derek Anderson to 14 of 37 accuracy for 125 yards and a 22.9 quarterback rating as he was intercepted three times with five sacks.

The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense, giving up just 20 points for a 10-point average. Seven of those points stem from rookie running back Ray Rice's lost fumble against the Bengals.

Despite the absence of injured nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee) the Ravens have been stout upfront. Justin Bannan has filled in admirably for Gregg so far.

The Ravens pressed their advantage in the second half with a series of hits as the Browns never scored in the second half after building a 10-7 halftime lead.

"Once they get the momentum, they start coming with their exotic blitzes and creating more pressure," Browns running back Jamal Lewis said. "That's how they win. That's why you can't let things go their way."

In particular, inside linebackers R ay Lewis and Bart Scott inflicted some pain. Lewis dislodged the football from tight end Kellen Winslow on a hit that led to cornerback Chris McAlister's interception, and Scott regularly won confrontations with Lewis in the open field.

"I thought the physical presence of our defense started with our linebackers," Harbaugh said. "Our two inside linebackers had some huge hits and some real physical plays that set the tempo for the game and really swung the momentum, especially in the third quarter."

For the Ravens, Sunday was partially about payback for how the Browns swept them last season.

"They kicked us while we were down last year," Scott said. "We heard them talking, we heard them say how we have an old defense and we can't get back to form."

After safety Ed Reed returned a second Anderson interception for a touchdown, the Ravens never looked back after grabbing a 21-10 lead.

Reed excelled despite a nerve impingement in his neck and left shoulder that has bothered him ever since the team report ed to training camp in July.

"It's pretty much off and on," Reed said. "During the week, I have pain, a little soreness here and there, but it's something I can deal with. To be out there, to help my teammates in any kind of way I can, that's what it's about."

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan didn't relax in the fourth quarter. He turned the heat up even higher on Anderson, frying the beleaguered quarterback with blitz packages as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs registered two sacks and a forced fumble in his duel with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.

"He was just throwing the ball up, or throwing it out of bounds, or throwing it in the dirt," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "He didn't want to take sacks, and when you don't want to take sacks, you throw interceptions."

Despite the strong start, including giving up just five first downs out of 26 third-down situations (19.2 percent), the Ravens aren't entirely satisfied.

Suggs recalled how the Ravens gave up 30 points or more four times in the final nine games last season as they finished 5-11 and in last place in the division.

"We've got to be consistent," he said. "In all my years here, we never really started terrible. It just got bad as the year went on.

"We had some mistakes in the game Sunday that you have to correct. You're always chasing perfection."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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