Published September 19, 2012
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Ray Lewis scoffs at the latest NFL statistics, which find the esteemed defense of the Baltimore Ravens ranked 27th among 32 teams.
The 37-year-old linebacker has been around long enough to know that it's pointless to make any assessments after Week 2 of a 16-game schedule, especially when it comes to evaluating a unit that has been so good for so long.
"I think at the end of the year is when you pay attention to stats," Lewis said Wednesday. "When people talk about our defense, whatever they want to say at the beginning of the year, we always say find us at the end of the year because you know where we're going to be."
If this season is like the previous nine, the Baltimore will finish in the Top 10. At this point, however, the defense is filled with a variety of newcomers trying to meld with veterans such as Lewis, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, and tackle Haloti Ngata.
With linebacker Terrell Suggs out indefinitely with a torn right Achillies tendon and Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding gone via free agency, Baltimore has several unfamiliar names playing for first-year coordinator Dean Pees. Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee and Albert McClellan have taken over as starters on the line, and Paul Kruger is doing his best to fill in for Suggs.
The alignment worked well in the opener against Cincinnati, but Baltimore was torched for 486 yards Sunday in a 24-23 loss to the Eagles. In two games, the Ravens have yielded 808 yards, including an uncharacteristic 258 on the ground.
"I think people realize we don't have Terrell Suggs on the outside, and Jarret Johnson. They tried to test our younger guys last week in Philly," Ngata said. "We can we improve in a lot of things. I'm not used to having teams trying to run on us as much. A lot of it is on the front. Hopefully we can stop the run early and try to pressure the quarterback better. If we can do that, our defense can be more dominant."
The Ravens can only hope to improve significantly before Sunday night's game against New England, a rematch of the 2011 AFC championship game.
"We have a lot of new faces in our front seven and we're still trying to get used to each other," Ngata said. "It definitely is a work in progress."
The Ravens have allowed only 37 points in two games, fifth-lowest in the league. They've also forced six turnovers. But that doesn't mean they're happy with how they've played.
"Like I told the guys, we need to tighten up. We need to get better," Reed said. "We've given up a lot of yards, on the ground and in the air. We've been talking about it long enough. It's time for us to play ball and correct the little things that we know we can correct."
Baltimore held a 23-17 lead over Philadelphia with 4:43 left when the Eagles took over on their own 20. Less than three minutes later, Philadelphia was celebrating the winning touchdown.
In that game, Sergio Kindle took over an injured Kruger (back), who had taken over for an injured Suggs. Eventually, the Ravens can only hope to have all the moving parts in place.
"It's adding this person, adding that person. Fixing this, fixing that," Lewis said. "This person goes down, that person goes down. Lose a Paul Kruger after not having Terrell Suggs. When you're moving a lot of people around, a lot different communication things really have to pick up as you go farther in the season.
"Every team is going to deal with it. There are always adjustments a team has to make. We're no different."