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Is Ravens Defense Still Elite?

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James Walker of ESPN writes in his AFC North Blog discussing the question of whether or not the Baltimore Ravens defense is still an elite unit. As the years add up and take a toll on guys like LB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed, all you have been hearing is how these guys have "lost a step" and are not the guys they were five, much less ten years ago. However, at the end of every season, you look at the stats and there is the Ravens defense ranked at or near the top of the league.

Lewis is 36 years old and entering his 16th NFL campaign. Reed is 32 and 2011 will be his 10th in the league. However, Ray is still mentioned when discussing the best linebackers in the league right now, not just of all-time. He finished the 2010 season with 139 tackles (102 solo), two sacks and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. That certainly doesn't sound like an aging veteran on his last legs!

By now most people are fully aware that Ed Reed missed the first six games of the 2010 season recovering from surgery, yet still led the NFL witheight interceptions, to go with his 37 tackles and one forced fumble. Reed averaged over 20 yards per interception return so not only did he create turnovers, he also put the team in excellent field position after the picks, lateraling one of them to fellow safety Dawan Landry for a touchdown return in a victory over the Carolina Panthers last year. 

So far, we've only discussed the two main cogs to the defense, but there are nine other starters to talk about, with age not really being a factor in any other player, except perhaps defensive tackle Kelly Gregg. The defensive line has such a good rotation and with second year DT Terrence Cody almost ready to take over for Kelly, this just is not an issue. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson will be 30 when the 2011 season finally gets underway but his age is not an item for discussion at this time.

With young linebackers inside (Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe) and the possibilities on the outside (Sergio Kindle) as well as other players in the mix (Tavares Gooden, Jason Phillips), the Ravens may have as deep a linebacking corp as there is in the NFL. We haven't even mentioned LB Terrell Suggs, who might be the best linebacker on the team, much less DT Haloti Ngata, who has proved he will continue to be an All-Pro for a lot more years.

In the secondary, cornerback Domonique Foxworthis the oldest player on that unit at 28, along with free agent cornerback Chris Carr, depending if the team re-signs him. The others, including Lardarius Webb, Josh Wilson and rookie Jimmy Smith, are all under 26 years old. Free agent safety, DawanLandry is 28, but both Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are 26 or younger.

So when others talk about the Ravens defense being old, they might be talking abut just Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and frankly, I'll take those two "old men" over pretty much any other pair of players in their positions throughout the entire NFL.