Normally, the top of the league's defensive ranking include the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens. While the first three are among the best in the NFL once again in 2012, noticeably missing from this group are the Baltimore Ravens.
In fact, there are so far removed from the top of the list that you must scroll down the listing of all 32 teams until you get to number 26 to see them listed. Yes, barely ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, who have won a combined two games between them.
There are so many statistics to look at that justify the ranking but two of them define the biggest problem, getting the defense off the field. Only one team has allowed more opponents offensive plays than the Ravens, which ties right in to the stat that Baltimore is third worst in the time of possession battle in the league.
The longer the Ravens defense stays on the field, the greater the chance of the opponents scoring and lessens the chance for the offense to get on the field and do their jobs. Looking at the defensive stats, it's almost amazing that the Ravens own the third best record in the league, lead the AFC North by 1.5 games over the Steelers and if the post season were to start right now, they'd be the AFC's second seed with a first-round playoff bye and then host a home playoff game.
However, the season is less than half over and unless the Ravens defense begins to correct these deficiencies, there is every reason to be worried if the team can remain at the top of the division, much less even make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. Losing two of their best players on the defensive side of the ball for the season is additional reason for concern.
Ray Lewis was the general on the field and Lardarius Webb was the team's best cornerback before their injuries. DT Haloti Ngata is hobbling with a knee injury hat could cause him to miss games or gasp, the rest of the season if it were to get any worse. Ed Reed supposedly has a torn labrum yet has not missed any time and does not plan to.
However, there is reason for hope and that comes in the form of OLB Terrell Suggs. Suggs tore his Achilles Tendon and underwent surgery and was originally thought to be missing the entire season. Then word came that he might be able to return before the playoffs, perhaps late in the season, as early as week nine in November.
However, Suggs kept insisting he'd be back earlier and he was right. T-Sizzle surprisingly made it back for the week 7 loss to the Houston Texans and despite virtually no practice and reportedly out of playing shape, was easily the best defensive player on the field that day for Baltimore.
Now after a week of rest and the chance to see how his body responded to its first real game action in nine months, Suggs should be healthy and ready for the second half of the season. Losing the other players is still a concern but getting back the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is huge and his return could very well be just what the doctor ordered for this beleaguered defense.
Suggs now will once again command the attention of opposing offenses, which in turn should open up the other players to return to the success they enjoyed last year when they were afterthoughts in defending the pass rush. That will make opposing QBs release the ball early, making the jobs of the Ravens secondary a lot easier.
More disruption by Suggs and his mates equals more failed third-down conversions, less plays, less time of possession and therefore, more time on the field for the Ravens offense. At this point, it might not result in the Ravens defense returning to the top of the list with the other notables, but even the middle of the pack would make a huge difference.
The return of Terrell Suggs to close to his former self will pay huge dividends to the Ravens defense and could very well return the team to the status of one of the top teams in the conference and restore them to a Super Bowl contender by the time the playoffs come around once again.