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John Harbaugh: “I expect Ravens defense to be great” in 2017

I don’t know whether head coach John Harbaugh really believes what he’s saying about a “new, improved” Ravens defense, or if he is just whistling past the graveyard.

But here’s the quote of the week from Harbs:

“I don’t want to overstate the expectations, but I’m not afraid to do that, really… I expect these guys to be great. … We expect to put a great defense on the field.”

The Ravens have been ramping up on defensive personnel. They acquired safety Tony Jefferson and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency. Then the draft brought on another round of defensive personnel with the addition of first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey, second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, third-round defensive end Chris Wormley and third-round pass rusher Tim Williams.

The Ravens do need all the quality defensive resources they can get. It’s not that their overall defense was that bad statistically last year in an 8-8 season—it’s just a matter of being on the field too long and kind of wearing out late in the games they lost.

For example, last year’s Christmas Day loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which knocked Baltimore out of playoff contention…..The Ravens defense held strong for most of the game but fell down the stretch, giving up 21 fourth-quarter points, including a game-winning touchdown in the final minute when wide receiver Antonio Brown fought off defenders to stretch the ball over the goal line.

Ryan Mink of the Ravens Media department got these quotes from Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees to help explain the situation:

“We like to pressure. We like to play man coverage. We like to get up in your face,” Pees said at Marlon Humphrey’s introductory press conference.

“There have been some times last year, like when we were ranked No. 1 in the league after 12 games, and those last four games we were not able to do that. Well, that is why this guy is sitting right here beside me. On the line of scrimmage, this guy is just absolutely phenomenal.”

Pees again went back to the loss in Pittsburgh last year to illustrate his point. He said he sent blitzes on four of the first five plays on that drive. It didn’t work.

“We pressured and nothing happened. We could not cover them,” Pees said. “I want to pressure, and I want to pressure a lot. That is not only based on the guys up front, but it is probably more things that we do [in the secondary].”

Baltimore is also counting on gains from second-year outside linebacker Matthew Judon, as well as third-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. And the Ravens still have six-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs, who notched eight sacks last season. Though he’ll turn 35 years old this season, Suggs could be better with more time since his 2015 Achilles tear.

Then there’s stopping the run. The Ravens did it better than pretty much everybody for much of last season but stumbled down the stretch and finished fifth in the league (89.4 yards per game). Baltimore made sure it will stay among the league’s elite in that category by re-signing nose tackle Brandon Williams, and the addition of Wormley will help make up for the loss of Lawrence Guy in free agency. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis and Willie Henry will step into larger roles with Jernigan gone.

But the big changes have been made in the secondary and pass rush. Harbaugh was asked if he believes this is the most depth at pass rusher and in the secondary that he’s had during his 10 years in Baltimore.

“I would have to say yes,” he said. “I don’t know, we’ll see. I mean, they have to prove it. We’ll find out. It’s up to them; they’ve got to do it. But we’re really excited to have these guys.”

 

 

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