Ranked an uncharacteristic last in the NFL, the once-esteemed defense of the Baltimore Ravens has nowhere to go but up.
Sure, the rankings after one game are essentially meaningless. But the defending Super Bowl champions did very little right last week in an embarrassing 49-27 loss at Denver.
The Ravens allowed a team-record 49 points and also set a franchise mark by yielding seven touchdown passes. The hope is that the retooled defense is simply a work in progress and the unit will be much more effective Sunday when Baltimore hosts Cleveland.
"That's the goal. That's what we're working for every day," newcomer Marcus Spears said Wednesday. "I think we have a great opportunity to be a real good defense but you prove that in games and by playing well."
That's not what happened against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Denver scored 35 points in the second half and finished with a whopping 510 yards in offense. Watching the game film was an agonizing experience for a defense that no longer can rely on Ray Lewis in the middle and Ed Reed on the back end.
"It was tough, especially when guys are out of character and not doing things that they normally do," cornerback Corey Graham said. "That was unacceptable."
Part of the problem is that there are a host of new players on the unit, which underwent a vast face lift soon after Baltimore beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl. Lewis retired before Reed, Darnell Ellerbe, Cary Williams and Paul Kruger left as free agents. Elvis Dumervil, Spears, Chris Canty, Michael Huff, Daryl Smith were among those brought in to make the defense even better than last year.
That might ultimately happen, but it's going to take some time.
"We're professionals, so I'm expecting it to be a lot better. You darn sure don't want to give up seven touchdowns again," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "That's something that needs to be addressed, and we're addressing it."
Fortunately for the Ravens, every other team in the AFC North lost in the opening week. And at least they've got Denver out of the way.
"It's not every week you get to play against a team that's as explosive as they were," Suggs said. "The one thing about Week 1, it lets you know where you've got to go. We're going to use that going forward."
The Baltimore defense isn't filled with rookies trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Unfortunately, the mixture of veteran talent has not yet melded into a cohesive unit.
"There a lot of guys on this defense that have played the game a long time," Spears said. "You've got to know how to stay even keel. You can't get too high when you're doing great and you can't get too down when something goes bad. We just didn't play well, and that happens. We've just to keep fighting. We've got 15 of these left. Nobody's pushing the panic button."
A strong performance against a Cleveland team that scored only 10 points at home against Miami last week would serve to get the Ravens going in the right direction.
"I'm hoping for it, planning for it, working for it," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the idea."
Safety James Ihedigbo said, "The mistakes that were made are easily correctable, and they have been corrected. We're focused on putting together a great game plan this week and playing Ravens defense."
The old fashioned brand of Ravens defense, that is, back when the unit was always among the best in the league.
"The real good defenses that I've been around, and the real good defenses that I've watched over time in the league, they have something about them that doesn't let them get too discouraged about having a bad day," Spears said. "We've just to keep fighting."
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