Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens: Defensive Players Show Promise for Next Season

I previously wrote of some of my favorite offensive players for the Baltimore Ravens this past season, now for the defense.

The Baltimore Ravens’ defense was ranked outside the top 10 in most major categories, despite the improvement from last season as already noted yesterday by our editor Randy. The offense didn’t help set up the defense very well, and the defense clearly did not play the same without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

There are still individual players who stepped up, and in some cases they proved to be worth the price to bring back next season. I see promise in these players to step up for the Ravens when the defense is called upon in a strong effort to win games. These players are Daryl Smith, James Ihedigbo, Matt Elam, and Lardarius Webb.

As I’ve said before, I’ll say again that these were the bright spots of the defense. They played with excellence and deserve recognition in an overall disappointing year.

In his first year as a Raven, Smith finished the season with 123 combined tackles with 57 total tackles. Without Lewis, Smith played exceptionally in trying to replace number 52, which happened to be Smith’s number when he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It seems by giving up the old number for his new number of 51 gave him a renewed sense for the game. In nine years with Jacksonville, Smith intercepted six passes, and in one year with Baltimore, he picked off opposing quarterbacks three times.

Smith never had double-digit pass deflections with the Jaguars, but as a Raven, he successfully defended 19 passes on the season. With that number, he was sixth in the NFL in passes defended.

He doubled his career assisted tackles with 66 as he was constantly around ball carriers, helping bring them down.

Smith has played 10 years in the NFL now, but I believe the Ravens need to keep him around. He is 31-years old, but he should have some more good years left to play. Baltimore certainly seems to have rejuvenated his football career.

Ihedigbo reminded me much of Reed this season. Many times I saw him hitting the receivers and being penalized. The next time he had a chance to hit a receiver, the penalty didn’t stop him from hitting him just as hard.

Though there will be argument over the new rules on hitting receivers, the Ravens need a player who is not afraid to still take an aggressive approach with opponents. Without Bernard Pollard, Ihedigbo certainly displayed a traditional Ravens’ way of playing defense.

Even with that, he put up career numbers in his short six-year career in the NFL with three interceptions (he was unable to accumulate any during his previous seasons) and 101 total tackles. This was all in his first real starting role, and I believe he will continue to improve if the Ravens keep him in a starting position.

Then there is the young player, Elam, who I have mentioned previously along with Ihedigbo. He had a decent rookie season while starting 15 of the 16 games.

Elam did not have the numbers Ihedigbo accumulated, but he still made his presence known on the field. He had the fire in his heart to talk smack with Calvin Johnson and backed it up afterwards on the field. It was fun looking for number 26 on the field and hoping he would do something amazing.

Elam had 10 total tackles against the Detroit Lions, which was his season high, and seven of those tackles were solos. I liked the passion Elam gave the team, and hopefully he will keep that passion for next season for other players to feed off.

Elam can still work on his pass defense, as he only successfully defended three passes according to the stats record. He still has much work to be done, but I cannot wait to see him play more.

As the Ravens move into the offseason, we’ll have to wait and see if Elam gets to remain in a starting position.

Of course, I cannot leave out Webb, who was proclaimed many times by many analysts to be the best defensive secondary player for the Ravens. He was tied for the lead in the NFL in successful passes defended. Though the Ravens did not perform well overall  in defending passes (especially in clutch moments), Webb was a bright spot that hopefully the other defenders will look at for an example through the offseason and into next year.

As well as he played, Webb still needs to work on his game, as  does the entire defense. He came up with big plays, but at times it was not enough in the big picture of the season. In light of coming back from injury, Webb did play quite well and started all 16 games.

Despite the overall poor defensive team performance that lacked leadership, Webb was a highlight and should improve as he will only be in his sixth season next fall. I certainly hope Webb does take leadership on the team if he has not already, because the defense needs it.

The Ravens did not shine on defense, but the players should bounce back and improve their games. The defense is young, so these players should benefit from a transitional season and use it to come back even stronger next season.

Even through disappointing seasons, there are always players who give hope to the team. What matters is if the team can follow after these players and grow together, and not just as individual players.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens

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