When you think of the best teams at defending the run in the NFL, you usually think of the Baltimore Ravens. Usually ranking at or near the top since their Super Bowl winning season of 2000, this year's version is a mere shadow of the past ones, even as recently as 2011 when they finished as the 2nd toughest team to run the ball against.
This season, the Ravens are third in run defense, but by "third," we mean third form the bottom of the league. Yes, the Baltimore Ravens have given up the third most rushing yards in the entire league. Exactly 1000 yards in seven games, an average of 142 yards per game.
Want some more scary comparisons to last year's Ravens run defense? In all of the 2011 season, the Ravens not only gave up an average of 92 yards a game, but only allowed ten rushing TDs, a long run of 25 yards and only four runs of 20+ yards. Already in just the first seven games of 2012, they are giving up an average of 50 more yards per game, ten TDs, a long run of 28 yards and as many runs of 20+ yards (4) as they did all last season.
The Ravens gave up a total of 181 yards on the ground to the Houston Texans in their 43-13 embarrassing loss last week and it was only the third-most in the last three games! The Kansas City Chiefs (214) and Dallas Cowboys (227) both gained more, although to be fair, the Ravens did manage to pull out those two game, albeit by a grand total of five points.
No team in the league has had more rushing attempts against them than Baltimore, whose 250 attempts are 26 more than the next most and only five other teams have faced more than 200 rushing attempts this season. The league knows that despite the Ravens ineffective pass rush, their run defense is so bad that that is now the way to move the ball on this once-formidable front wall.
Injuries to Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis cannot be used as an excuse, as both were there deep into the Ravens win over the Cowboys. Terrell Suggs was missing and is now back, so we will see his impact on the run defense, although Ngata is still not healthy and might not be quite the run-stopper he was due to his injured knee. Terrence Cody has not panned out like the plug his was expected to be in the run defense and no one else has stepped up.
The outlook is not so dismal as the rest of the league is showing as much parity in 2012 as perhaps ever before. There are still only three teams in the AFC with winning records, the Texans (6-1), Ravens (5-2) and New England Patriots (4-3). However, unless the Ravens defense makes some sort of turnaround that will be nothing short of amazing, or the offense takes off and outscores what the defense allows, head coach John Harbaugh will have to face his greatest challenge of his five year head coaching career to overcome this unexpected predicament.