You can see it happening. The Baltimore Ravens defense is getting better. It is not happening overnight, nor is it happening in huge leaps and bounds but slowly and surely the 2012 Ravens' defense is becoming very good.
If you haven't watched each game from the beginning of the season you probably would not notice because the team is still giving up large chunks of yards between the 20's and some players continue to miss open field tackles. These are things that were unheard of over the past decade in Baltimore but this season have become more the norm. However, as slowly as watching paint dry or grass grow, those of us that have been watching are noticing a turn-around in the overall defensive play of the team.
Yesterday's win in San Diego was a culmination of tremendous individual efforts combining in a huge team victory for the Baltimore Ravens. Both on offense and on defense players stepped up to keep the team in a game that they really had no business winning through the first three and a half quarters of play. The Ravens registered six sacks on the day from five different players including two from defensive end Arthur Jones, the first of his career. Jones has spent 2012 learning to play more rush defensive end instead of his normal defensive line duties. Yesterday his work payed huge dividends for he and his team.
Special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo was forced into action on defense due to an injury to Danell Ellerbe and played lights out in the time he had. Ayanbadejo was a crucial part of the Ravens overtime win as his sure tackling kept the Chargers offensive players from picking up first downs on plays thrown behind the sticks. I'm not sure if any other linebacker on the Ravens roster would have made the plays and reads that Brendon made in those situations but we will never know. A tremendous individual effort to help produce an excellent team win.
Corner back Corey Graham turned in an other impressive performance starting in place of Jimmy Smith. Graham was handed the daunting task of covering guys a good 4-5 inches taller than him all day and he passed the test with flying colors. Sure, there were plays that he and fellow corner Cary Williams got beat, but this is the NFL and that is going to happen every week, especially with the rules favoring the offense more and more each year. However, Graham made the tackles he was supposed to make when he was needed to make them and late in the game and in over-time he played very tight coverage and forced huge incompletions at key moments in the game.
Of course these are just a few players that made key contributions in a very big game for the Ravens. The defense has now refused to give up a Red Zone touchdown in it's last four games. The pass rush has gotten consistently better since the Texans game/return of Terrell Suggs and the rest seems to be falling into place. Newcomer Courtney Upshaw has fit in nicely and showed play-making ability as he becomes more accustomed to the NFL and Terrence Cody seems to be playing better of late as well.
Don't look now but the Ravens defense seems to be coming together just at the right time. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was hit with some tough road blocks to start his career in Baltimore but with patience and optimism he has helped this team start the process of redefining it's defensive identity. This may not be how Ravens fans envisioned this season playing out but the team is 9-2 and very close to being 10-1 if it were not for a sub par performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in which the ball bounced the wrong way just a few too many times.
I don't want to speak too soon so I say all of this with cautious optimism. The Ravens will have to face the Steelers for the second time in three weeks this weekend, most likely with Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm. this will again be a daunting test for both the defense and offense but it seems that the defense is starting to click and that is real bad news for the rest of the league.