Ravens defense at peak for clash with Steelers

There came a point this season when Baltimore Ravens linebacker

Ray Lewis had to defend the play of the team’s defense.

Now he’s bragging about it.

Heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers,

the Ravens are coming off two straight games in which they allowed

only seven points – including a 30-7 rout of Kansas City last week

in the wild-card round.

Only two months ago, however, Baltimore’s renowned defense was a

work in progress.

Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for four touchdowns and 382

yards passing on Oct. 24, and two games later, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan

accounted for 316 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-21 victory.

The problem then, according to Lewis, was that the Ravens had just

gotten back injured safety Ed Reed, cornerback Josh Wilson had just

taken over as a starter for Fabian Washington and defensive back

Lardarius Webb was working his way back from a knee injury.

”A lot of us have played with each other for a long time, and

then you add young pieces here and there,” Lewis said at the time.

”You start to fit your pieces in. I think this defense has the

ability to do whatever we want to do once we finally start

solidifying those pieces.”

Lewis was right. Only Pittsburgh and Green Bay allowed fewer

points than Baltimore this season, and the Ravens’ defense ranked

10th overall – its eighth straight season in the top 10.

”For you to end up 12-4, for you to end up (third) in scoring

defense and in the top 10, that’s why you play the game,” Lewis

said this week. ”We’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”

Linebacker Terrell Suggs had two sacks against the Chiefs, and

the Ravens forced five turnovers. Clearly, the Baltimore defense is

peaking at just the right time.

”It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Suggs said.

”You all gave us some grief early in the year, and yet we finished

12-4. Once we got Ed back, we started getting a lot of turnovers.

We always consider ourselves a December- and January-type team, and

we just started playing really good.”

Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg added, ”As a whole, we’ve been

very successful in what we tried to do and what we got done. When

it all comes down to it, it’s how many points you’ve given up.

That’s the stat that should be taken to heart.”

Cory Redding joined the Ravens as a free agent during the

offseason and needed a few weeks to get adjusted to the scheme of

defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. After spending six years in

Detroit and last season in Seattle, Redding can’t express the

delight he’s experienced with Baltimore.

”This is by far the best team, best organization, best defense,

best year, best everything I’ve been a part of,” he said. ”It’s

great to play on a team with high-caliber players. It makes it fun,

because you never know who’s going to make a spectacular

play.”

When Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to

pass Saturday, he will be looking for Reed, who has eight

interceptions despite missing the first six games following hip

surgery. But Roethlisberger knows that Reed is only one facet of a

defense that broke his nose in the Steelers’ 13-10 win in Baltimore

last month.

”The thing about it is, you can’t get caught up on Ed because

then you forget about Gregg or (Haloti) Ngata or Ray Lewis or

Suggs,” Roethlisberger said. ”It’s their whole defense. You can’t

get caught up in one guy because they’re all so good.”

Especially lately.

”Everybody’s been getting better and playing consistent,”

cornerback Chris Carr said. ”We’re feeling fresh, and we’re

starting to have fun. Last week was the loosest we’ve been all

season, because this is what you’ve been playing for all

year.”