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Where the Ravens Need to Improve for 2012: Defense

As the defensive coaching turn over continues for the Baltimore Ravens with the recent departure of one-year stand out coordinator, Chuck Pagano, fans of the purple and black shouldn’t worry in the least. Time and time again, the Ravens’ defense has proven that no matter the coaching, they can continue to be among the NFL’s elite. With new Ravens defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, stepping up to the plate, expect the Ravens to continue their dominant ways.

Even though the Ravens have been setting the standard for intimidating and ferocious defensive play for the past decade or more, every team will be looking to improve upon their past seasons performance, even the Ravens’ exceptional defensive unit.

This past season the Ravens finished: 2nd overall in rushing yards allowed per game (92 yards average), 4th overall in passing yards allowed per game (196 yards average), 3rd in total yards allowed per game (288 yards average), and 3rd in total points allowed per game (16.6 points average).

So, as individual units, how can the Ravens defense improve for 2012 when they already finished off this past season no less than the 4th best in every major statistical defensive category?

It’s a tall order, but something tells me Ray Lewis and Co. will be up to the task.

After the "Jump" take part in the poll and see what the Ravens can do in order to continue putting fear in the hearts of opposing offenses.

Defensive Backs: Probably without question, the Ravens’ defensive backs were the biggest unknown heading into this season. As a group that saw a fair amount of turn over from last season, many thought that this unit could have been the un-doing of the Ravens’ defense. Josh Wilson headed down the highway for the Washington Redskins, Lardarius Webb was still working through a major injury, Dominique Foxworth went down with a season ending injury early, and the Ravens were looking for rookie, Jimmy Smith, to step in and be able to carry a heavy work load from the get-go. With a less than ideal situation, the Ravens’ defensive backs blew everyone away and far exceeded any expectations that they had placed on them.

One area of improvement would be:

Pass Coverage: I’ll let it be known right here and now: I’m not a big fan of zone schemes. Yes, they have their time and place in any defensive system, but with the emergence of Lardarius Webb, and the physical skills of Jimmy Smith, I think it’s time to see more man-to-man coverage. Several times throughout the course of the season, the Ravens’ cornerbacks were giving large cushions to opposing wide receivers off of the line of scrimmage. Usually, it led to a completion to the opposing offense at best, and at worst it led to first downs. With Webb and Smith looking to be the #1 and #2 cornerbacks next year, I believe that they have all of the skills to be left on their own "islands" covering their assignments and taking away the other team’s best targets.

Linebackers and Defensive Line: Another unit that’s tough to come up with areas of improvement for, but there were a few times this season that the Ravens’ stout defensive front had some uncharacteristic traits about itself.

Run Defense: While generally being extremely good at shutting down teams’ rushing attacks, the Ravens defensive front found itself struggling against some of the more physical backs in the NFL towards the end of the season, such as: the Houston Texans’, Arian Foster, and the Cleveland Browns’, Peyton Hillis. In the Divisional Round of the playoffs against the Texans, the Ravens gave up 132 yards and 1 touchdown to Foster, and in the last meeting between the Browns and the Ravens, they gave up 112 yards to Hillis. Perhaps the Ravens struggled at times due to the reported injury Haloti Ngata was working through, but it should also be noted that the Ravens had the most trouble with rushes to the outside. Setting the edge against the run became somewhat of a problem in games, but even still, that’s a very small knock against a unit that was extremely good at defending against the run all year.

Quarterback pressure opposite Terrell Suggs: The Ravens have been searching for another dominant pass rusher to plug in opposite Suggs for years. Here’s something to think about: the Ravens totaled 48 sacks during the regular season, 14 of which came directly from Suggs. That’s about 30% of the Ravens’ sack total from this year. Unfortunately, the team has yet to find that special player that could elevate the Ravens’ pass-rush to new heights. Outside Linebacker, Paul Kruger, has only thus far proven to be a situational pass rusher, but with 5.5 sacks during the regular season, with additional developmental time this off-season and an increased role in 2012, he could prove to be just what the Ravens are looking for. 2010 2nd round pick, Sergio Kindle has yet to prove much in his short time with the Ravens due to injuries and being buried on the depth chart. Hopefully with another full off-season of working with the defense, Kindle could become another good pass rusher in the Ravens’ arsenal. Personally, I believe the answer opposite Suggs is soon to be 2nd year defensive end, Pernell McPhee. With 6 sacks in limited regular season play, an increased role next season could see McPhee double his sack total from this year and become one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL.

Trust me; it isn’t easy coming up with suggestions on how to improve one of the NFL’s best defensive units. A full off-season for the younger defensive players to develop will do a lot of good and could propel an already stellar defense to become something truly special. With the guidance and experience of proven leaders such as: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs combined with young stand outs: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Pernell McPhee, this defense could become something truly frightening to any offense that stands in its way.

Please feel free to add your thoughts on what the Ravens defense needs to do to remain dominant, or dare I say…get even better.