Since the beginning of the 2012 season the Baltimore Ravens defense has been a disappointment to players, coaches and fans alike. The once dominant unit spent all season at the bottom of the pile in most statistical categories. The one thing that really saved them was their red zone production. They were still at the top of the league at keeping opponents out of the end zone once they had reached the red zone (20 yard line). It's not much but it gave hope that with a few key adjustments the unit could again be dominant.
As the season went on and a slew of important defensive players went down with injuries things looked as if they were going to fall apart for good. Everything culminated when the Ravens went to Houston to play a red hot Texans team having just lost their best corner, Lardarius Webb, and defensive leader, middle linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens got destroyed by the Texans but luckily they had two weeks off to lick their wounds and figure out how to pick up the pieces.
The defense didn't set the world on fire when they came back but they did promptly beat the Browns, Raiders, Steelers and Chargers all in a row before losing a nail-bitter against the Charlie Batch lead Steelers. During this time you could see things starting to work out on the defensive side of the ball however. 2011 Defensive Player Of The Year Terrell Suggs came back early from his injury and many of the back ups started to show that they were capable replacements for our fallen Ravens.
Players like Paul Kruger and Arthur Jones started to make big plays now that Suggs was back on the field demanding attention. Corey Graham and James Ihedigbo worked with Cary Williams, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard to solidify a secondary that had needed a facelift. Haloti Ngata was again playing the majority of the season injured but he still managed to make his presence felt and always demanded a double team from opposing offenses. Dannell Ellerbe showed that he could be one of the next great Ravens linebackers if he keeps moving in the right direction.
The team ended the season losing 4 out of their last five games but let's call it three out of their last four because the Bengals game to end the season was played in the style of an exhibition game with most key players sitting out the contest. Even though the team lost the games, you couldn't really put any of it on the defense. It was the offense that couldn't stay consistent and constantly gave the defense a short field to work with on little to no rest.
Actually the defensive unit was slowly figuring themselves out, even during the losing streak. Then, in week 16, the Ravens encountered a struggling New York Giants team desperately in need of a win, much as the Ravens where. Baltimore tore apart the New Yorkers and had several (surprising) key contributors. Corner back Chykie Brown came through with a huge game as did fourth string safety Omar Brown. The Ravens defense, that was once built on star power and individual efforts was now working as one cohesive unit and they once again looked capable of stopping anyone.
New defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs to be credited with everything this unit has accomplished this season. With all the trials and tribulations this group has been through he had every excuse to throw his hands up in the air and say "It's not my fault, look what I have to work with!". Instead he took what he had to work with and found the best way to use them to his teams advantage. The Baltimore Ravens defensive unit is now stronger for it.
So now, with the playoffs starting this week and several starters ready to come back and make this defense stronger, Baltimore is primed to show the league that they are still one of the top defenses in the game. They have a strong game plan and all the right pieces of the puzzle returning to make a deep playoff run. They will have a big test week one against the Indianapolis Colts who are lead by a man who spent four years in Baltimore and knows this team like the back of his hand. Perhaps the best thing the Ravens did was fire Cam Cameron when they did. I'm sure Chuck Pagano would have known every play Cameron would have thrown at him.
The Baltimore Ravens defense may have been down but they are certainly not out by any means...