Baltimore Ravens  

 

Baltimore Ravens aren't hitting panic button over defensive woes

BALTIMORE -- Midway through a conversation with a reporter at his locker Wednesday, Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was spouting all sorts of knowledge when he spit out two words that caused a need for immediate application of the brakes: panic button.

"It's going to be OK, man," Pollard said in an almost consolatory, apologetic tone of voice. "We're not hitting that panic button. Nobody is hitting the panic button."

Seriously? Look, I understand Baltimore hasn't exactly played "Ravens defense" lately. I get that 37-year-old linebacker Ray Lewis isn't playing like a 27-year-old version of himself. Everyone can see the flaws, but panic button?

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Here are two more words for anyone who actually believes Pollard or anyone else on the Ravens really even needs to rationalize the first quarter of the season: "four" and "one." Only two teams in the NFL have a better record than Baltimore. So why would Pollard even suggest the panic button?

"Well, everyone is talking about what our defense is doing, can we hold up, can we expect to go to the playoffs," he said. "If we're not panicking, nobody else should.

"Championship football teams learn how to win. You figure out a way. We're five games into the season, and obviously we want to get the stats all figured out, but when it's all said and done, we're trying to build for later in the season. We've got to set ourselves up, and I think that's what we're doing."

Here's the key: It isn't as concerning that the Ravens' defense ranks 24th in the NFL because the unit also ranks fourth with 12 takeaways so far this season. We get so caught up in trying to decide if Lewis is still playing at a Hall of Fame level that we fail to realize there are still big playmakers around him.

It's one thing if Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles rushes for 144 yards and the Ravens can't keep him out of the end zone. It's another, though, when all nine of the Ravens' points are scored off turnovers and the Chiefs gain nothing but two field goals out of all that rushing output.

Give me turnovers over total defense every day of the week.

"The biggest thing was probably the way we handled the situation in terms of finding a way to win the game," coach John Harbaugh said. "If you don't get better from one week to the next, you have no chance at the end of the year to be successful. So we've got to find a way to be better every week."

Maybe that's what makes this week's game against the Dallas Cowboys particularly interesting. Dallas has encountered severe struggles trying to run the ball, despite major success when the team does actually commit to running back DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys are 2-8 when Murray has 12 or fewer carries -- and they are 7-0 when he has more than 12 carries.

And yet, the Cowboys continue to be a passing team.

It should be no surprise, then, if Dallas comes into this game with an altered plan, attempting to once again expose the Ravens' run defense -- just like the Chiefs did during the first half last week. Lewis clearly understands that possibility.

"They can look to do whatever they want to do, but it ain't going to be what they think it's going to be," Lewis said during a conference call with the Dallas media.

That much, we'll have to find out. The Cowboys seemingly would be very wise to keep the ball on the ground as often as possible, noting their own vulnerability to turnovers when quarterback Tony Romo puts the ball in the air too often. That's the reason why it will make sense for this to turn into a ground-and-pound situation on both sides.

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And it's also the reason why, before we start worrying about whether the Ravens' defense is actually legitimate, we need to see a game like this play out in its entirety. Yes, more and more teams will begin to challenge Baltimore's potential vulnerability. But until their record indicates otherwise, there's no reason why we should discount this team.

So remove your hand from anywhere near that panic button, Mr. Pollard. Statistics are important, but not nearly as important as the record.

"You look around the league and you always hear these personal stats by guys, and their teams are 1-4," Lewis said. "I throw those things out the window. There is not an accolade or record I don't have. None of that impresses me. What impresses me is having my team ready to play every week. For us to be where we are right now, I am really excited because we're just fine-tuning where we're going.

"For us to pull that off, and then come out of that with a 4-1 record, it's just awesome how much better we can get."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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