Ravens fans barely had time to celebrate the Ravens big comeback win over the Lions on Monday night before realizing Tom Brady's New England Patriots are on the way to Baltimore this weekend to try to ruin the party.
Before Ravens fans can even begin to dream about odds on the Super Bowl, their home team is going to have first get by Brady's perplexing offense and New England's challenging defense.
Brady for his part is saying all the right things, from a PR-don't-rile-up-the-Ravens standpoint. He's been especially generous in his praise of the Ravens defense in public interviews. I also noticed he singled out Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith, whom the Ravens acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars at the start of the 2013 season.
Smith has been playing lights out this season, especially during the Ravens' current winning streak.
Daryl Smith is 6-1, 248, and 31 years old now…he was drafted by the Jags out of Georgia Tech in the 2nd round of the 2004 Draft.
He went on to become a versatile ILB who could tackle and cover and pass-rush, and wound up with a bunch of team records he still holds for the Jax franchise.
The Ravens came calling in 2013 and signed him to a one-year contract as insurance against the departures of Ray Lewis and Dannel Ellerbe.
But I don't think the Ravens truly expected Daryl Smith to begin dominating games on defense like he has been doing for the Ravens lately— and from the inside linebacker spot once owned by Ray Lewis.
Smith is even doing something better than Ray ever did— pass deflections.
“He looks really good,” Brady said about Smith during his press conference Wednesday. “He looks a lot like Ray Lewis.”
Much has been made about the defensive transition the Ravens underwent during the offseason and even into the regular season. Moving on from players like Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams was a significant change for the unit.
Daryl Smith leads the Ravens with 107 tackles, and he took over Lewis’ job of relaying the calls from the sideline.
“He definitely is the communicator on defense, like Lewis was,” Belichick said. “You can see him making adjustments and checks and controlling the front, moving the front over and getting them lined up and those kinds of things. It looks like he’s got good command of what they’re doing.”
From a statistical standpoint, the Ravens actually have a better defense compared to last season. The group ranks seventh in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed, compared to 12th and 17th in the same categories last year.
As much as Lewis and Reed meant to the organization and locker room from a leadership perspective, Belichick said that last year they were no longer the Ravens’ best players like earlier in their careers.
“Those guys were really good players a few years ago,” Belichick said. “I would say more recently and I would say last year, they both missed time. I don’t think they were the best players on that team. I think they were obviously good players, they had great leadership and certainly [their] personalities had a big impact on the team and so forth. But I wouldn’t say they were their best players.”
The Ravens have filled the void left by the departure of former stars, and the Patriots still see a defense that matches the standard expected in Baltimore.
Like I said, Brady is saying all the right things—as is Belichick. Jedi mind trickery? If so, I don't believe Daryl Smith will fall for letting up in his preparation against Brady's expected game plan. I tried to contact Smith today for an interview—I was told he was busy studying film and would not be available for comment.