Saturday, September 10, 2011

About That Baltimorereless Defense

“This game is all about the defense and how good they are and who doesn’t turn the ball over on offense ... but I think at some point you have to flip that around and try to go score points on offense.  I don’t see us holding anything back.”  -- Ben Roethlisberger

"I don't see us holding anything back."  Sounds like Ben Roethlisberger is salivating at the prospect of opening up the Steelers passing game against the Baltimore Ravens' rebuilt secondary, especially with the Steelers lightning-fast receiving corps.

Ravens' All-Pro safety Ed Reed returns and will be joined on the back end by new starter Tom Zibikowski, who replaces Dawan Landry.  The corners will be manned by two new starters, rookie first-rounder Jimmy Smith from Colorado and Cary Williams, a fourth-year player with one career start (in 2009) under his belt.  Veterans Chris Carr and Ladarius Webb also will see playing time, particularly Carr as the nickel back.  Veteran Dominique Foxworth may also figure in the mix, if healthy enough.  Just like the Ravens' retooled offensive line, it may take time for Balti-sore's secondary to jell.  Expect the Steelers to pounce early and often, especially because the Ravens' pass rush has only one established threat, rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 11 sacks in 2010.

Joining Suggs at linebacker is the team leader, Ray Lewis, always a disruptive force,and second-year starter Jameel McClain, who had 91 tackles last season, and veteran Jarrett Johnson, also a very good player.

The formidable Haloti Ngata anchors the defensive line and will be flanked by nine-year veteran Cory Redding and new starter Terrence Cody, a second-year player who replaces veteran stalwart Kelly Gregg, who departed in free agency.  Steelers' broadcasters Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, both of whom had long careers in the NFL as offensive linemen, consider this a major drop-off.  

Ngata, who is arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL, keys the Ravens defense with steady pressure up the middle against both the run and pass -- he had 5.5 sacks in 2010.  He will require attention.

Overall, the Ravens' defense should still be good, but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls expect the Steelers to test the new secondary early, often and deep. One key, of course, will be protecting Ben Roethlisberger, but until the Ravens can prove they have a legitimate pass rush, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians probably will put the offense on full throttle. 

As to establishing a running game, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock made an interesting point this week.  In today's NFL, he said, it's not so much about establishing the run early, it's about establishing the lead early.  Then, you establish the run, pound the clock and turn your blitzing pass rush loose on a team that is trying to catch up.  Look out, Joe Flacco. 

One other note: Let's not overlook Baltimore's new defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who has coached in the NFL for 10 years and spent the last four seasons as the Ravens' secondary coach.  It remains to be seen what wrinkles he has up his sleeve, but we would expect he will try to improve the team's pass rush, which had just 27 sacks last season (ranking near the bottom of the NFL).

Update on Baltimore's Special Teams
Although Baltimore media had speculated earlier this week that rookie receiver Torrey Smith would return punts and kickoffs, the Ravens' Web site lists something more sensible and realistic, which is the veteran speedster Ladarius Webb handling all kick returns.  David Reed, who handled kickoffs last season, is suspended by the NFL for this game.

The Beauty of Scars
Here is an interesting blog post (as always) from rookie running back Baron Batch, the fifth-round draft pick from Texas Tech who is on injured reserve (IR) after sustaining a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) on the last day of training camp at St. Vincent College.  

Batch writes about his knee surgery, physical therapy, what it is like to be on IR and "The Beauty of Scars."   Here is an excerpt:
I have a new scar now.  Its permanent address is my left knee. It is a work of art created by the artist simply known as Life.  Life doesn’t discriminate whom she scars physically or emotionally. However, over my 23 years of life I have come to realize the beauty of scars. How crazy would it be if once wounds healed they didn’t leave a mark, what if there were no scars? What if we healed without a reminder or what was? Would you forget the pain that you endured? Would you forget the healing process that took place? Would you even forget the wound altogether?

Scars serve as a permanent reminder of our fragility but more importantly our strength. Scars are proof of what you have overcome. Every time I look at my many scars I remember how weak I was at the time the wound was formed, and what formed it. I remember the healing process. I remember the strength I didn’t know I had to push through, and I remember eventually being healed.

I’m proud of my new scar, because as a new scar forms so does character. And once a new scar turns into an old one, it is tougher than it was before. 

My scars are beautiful, and so are yours. My scars make me stronger, and so do yours. My scars have a story, and yours do too.