Who Is the Baltimore Ravens’ Defensive MVP?
Who is the Baltimore Ravens' Defensive MVP?
Ask anybody who the most important player on the Baltimore Ravens' offense is and most will say Ray Rice. The 5-foot-8, 212-pound running back is the team's most valuable wild card and has led the team in touchdowns for the past two seasons. Joe Flacco might get more nods since earning more respect for his historic postseason performance, though. 1,140 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 117.2 will certainly convince some doubters. Being Super Bowl MVP can't hurt, either.
Who is the most important player on the defense, though? Baltimore has a proud tradition of having a formidable defense, but that tradition suffered some setbacks last season. As the Ravens prepare to get back on track for 2013, several questions loom. Ray Lewis held the D together for well over a decade, but his retirement left a huge hole on the team, both in production and in leadership. Over the course of 17 seasons, Lewis logged 1,558 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 31 interceptions, and 119 defended passes in 228 games. Ed Reed was another longtime cog in the Ravens' machine-like defense, roaming the back of the field, waiting to capitalize on opposing quarterbacks' mistakes. During his 11 seasons with the Ravens, Reed recorded 505 tackles, 136 defended passes, and 61 interceptions for 1,541 yards and seven touchdowns. There are more new faces on the defense than old this season, though, and both Lewis and Reed are gone. Expectations are high for the revamped defense going into the 2013 season, but who is the key to its success?
The Ravens' defense struggled from the very beginning last season, and a big reason was the absence of their best pass rusher. Terrell Suggs' ability to disrupt quarterbacks with little or no help essentially gave former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano an extra man to plan with. Though his production was limited last season, his return from injury made an immediate impact, especially in the playoffs.
Though Haloti Ngata has always been a quiet contributor to the Ravens defense, his presence has been integral to their success ever since his arrival in 2006. One of the team's top ten tacklers for the past three seasons, the mountainous defensive lineman is one of the league's most dominant defenders when healthy. He's never missed more than two games in seven years, showing his determination to make a difference even when he struggles with aches and pains.
Lardarius Webb came out of nowhere in 2011 and quickly asserted himself as an invaluable member of the Ravens' secondary. His ability to shadow wide receivers and pick off unsuspecting quarterbacks gave opposing offensive coordinators one more player to plan around. Though Cary Williams and Corey Graham stepped up when he went down with a torn ACL halfway through last season, Webb was sorely missed on the field.
There's a lot of uncertainty for the Ravens at inside linebacker right now. Jameel McClain, Daryl Smith, and Arthur Brown are all recovering from injuries sustained last season. The Ravens have plenty of unproven talent ready to step up and man the middle of the field, but their inexperience could be a huge liability, especially against slot receivers and tight ends. McClain has the most experience at inside linebacker with the Ravens heading into 2013, so his presence and leadership will be paramount to the defense's success.
There are high expectations for the Ravens' first-round pick in 2013. Though Matt Elam's immediate job will be to replace (and exceed) Bernard Pollard's hard-hitting and intimidating production, his eventual purpose is to take over Ed Reed's role. Veteran safety James Ihedigbo could always fill in if Elam fails to produce or goes down with an injury, but a more long-term setback would put the Ravens back at square one.