Satisfaction can be relative. In the first quarter of their 30--7 victory over the previously undefeated Broncos on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens sacked Kyle Orton on the first snap, forced a fumble to set up a field goal and limited Denver to 23 yards on 12 plays. Still, there was no sense of accomplishment in Baltimore's defensive huddle, where the players' mood was as dark as their jerseys.
The Ravens' defense is a proud bunch, having ranked among the league's top six in nine of the past 10 seasons and No. 2 last year under coordinator Rex Ryan. But in the two games before Baltimore's Week 7 bye, the unit had squandered fourth-quarter leads—allowing the Bengals to march 80 yards in the final 1:53 for the decisive touchdown in a 17--14 Cincinnati win, then letting the Vikings go 66 yards inside four minutes to set up a field goal for their 33--31 victory. Under Ryan's successor, Greg Mattison, the defense had dropped to 20th in the league through its first six games. Baltimore was 3--3.
The two collapses flew in the face of what coach John Harbaugh had been preaching since training camp: the need to finish teams off. "You look at [some of] the games we lost last year," he says, "and it was because we were not able to close them out—whether that meant not getting a first down to keep our defense on the sideline or letting the other team drive down the field."
During their bye, the Ravens searched for answers. Opponents had been saying Mattison was more predictable than Ryan in his play-calling, allowing teams to get a better feel for when and from where the pressure would come. "What it boils down to is we needed to do more things on first down," Harbaugh said. "We needed to get people off track because if they get you to third-and-three or third-and-four, it's hard to run anything."
Denver had been the league's best team at avoiding third-and-longs, but on Sunday the Broncos faced third-and-nine or longer on five of 13 third downs, converting only one of those.
On Denver's first play of the game, left outside linebacker Jarret Johnson positioned himself off the line of scrimmage so that he'd be screened from Orton's view. After a hesitation at the snap, Johnson came unobstructed on the blitz and flattened the QB. "Give credit to Greg Mattison," 10-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis said afterward. "As players, we're going to execute [the play], but the way he drew it up and the way our defense disguised it, they never saw [Johnson]. That's [important for] us—accepting the call, disguising it the right way. Then you get a big play to start the game off."
As Mattison mixed the looks, his defense wore down Orton, who threw for a season-low 152 yards and often appeared confused and uncomfortable. The dominant performance strengthened the Ravens' confidence in their new coordinator's game-planning. "You've got to trust it," says outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "We've just got to believe in the calls we're running. Once we start doing that and we know the ins and outs of the defense, we're right back to where we were."
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