Many questions entering the 2013 NFL season will be surrounded by the changes in the Baltimore Ravens organization. My colleague, Brian Moore, discussed the change in leadership the Ravens will be going through earlier in the week. I certainly agree. There is also the most underrated aspect defensive players don’t seem to get enough credit for, and that is intelligence.
The Ravens’ success over the years speaks for itself. The organization has earned the right to do what they want when they want without constant criticism. But as much as we trust the Ravens front office, it would be delusional to some degree to think that this team won’t have some struggles in certain areas, especially calling plays on defense. But that isn’t an excuse they will entertain.
With play calling, we can start at inside linebacker. The Ravens in their history have never played a playoff game where Ray Lewis didn’t start. From here on out for the rest of their existence, it will be a task they have will have to overcome every time. It isn’t easy taking over the spot of arguably the greatest leader in the history of professional sports, but inside linebacker Arthur Brown has to do his best.
Add to that the fact that the Ravens no longer have Ed Reed to strike fear into elite quarterbacks in the postseason. In the regular season in recent years, the Ravens do just fine without Lewis and Reed. From 2009 through 2012 when Lewis and Reed missed regular season games, the combined record for the Ravens when either were out at certain point in time was 15-8.
While the Ravens played well without them during the regular season, it still doesn’t make life for Brown and strong safety Matt Elam any easier. It’s tough to take over for legends, but there’s a culture in the Ravens organization that doesn’t settle for anything other than dominance on defense.
The Ravens know there will be growing pains, but they also expect a defense that should be faster than it has been in recent years.
Brown and Elam are expected to hold their own during the regular season and in the playoffs. But will they be able to put their teammates in the right position to succeed? This area is one of the more underrated aspects Lewis and Reed had.
Say whatever you want about Lewis and Reed not being as good physically as they once were, but they were smart and their intelligence made up for their physical deficiencies against elite offenses. If that wasn’t enough to still consider them among the best in the league at their positions at the end of their careers with the Ravens, then it’s obvious that being smart on defense isn’t important to some.
While there is no doubt the Ravens lost a lot of intelligence this offseason, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are veterans who have learned under Lewis and Reed. Ngata and Suggs will make sure their identity stays the same.
How far the Ravens will go this season will depends on the intelligence of Ngata and Suggs to put players in the right position. I believe they will do just thatm and they will embrace the challenge. Suggs and Ngata know the system, and they know what it takes to dismantle high powered offenses.
Players inside the Ravens locker room may not admit it, but I’m sure some look at this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves and shine. It will be a transition from what the players have always known about the defense, but they still have pride and defense will be looking to take back their claim of being the best defense in the league.