2007 Season (The MURPHY’S LAW Season) Part 2: Defense
The snake-bitted-ness extended to the defensive side of the ball in 2007.
The defensive line was the standout group of 2007. Perhaps the most disappointing part of their season was that neither Kelly Gregg nor Haloti Ngata, both deserving, were voted to the Pro Bowl. These two were absolute monsters inside, as good as any defensive tackle duo in the league, and as good as we’ve seen in B-More since the days of “Goose” and Sam Adams. “Buddy Lee” had 80 tackles, tied for most in his career, and Ngata had 63, as the Ravens were 2nd in the NFL in rush defense, allowing only 79 yards per game. Backups Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards also played well.
Unfortunately, there is another side to playing defensive line: pressuring the quarterback. Pass rusher extraordinaire Trevor Pryce broke his wrist in week 2 and saw action in only 5 games. As a result, his sack total dropped from 13 a year ago to just 2 in ’07. His absence also allowed opposing offenses to commit more blockers to any Ravens blitzers. The Ravens had only 32 sacks in 2007, just over half their 2006 total of 60 – don’t underestimate the importance of one man, Pryce, to that stat.
Gregg is 31, and probably has 2 or 3 seasons of high-level play left if he stays healthy. Ngata is entering just his 3rd season, and will be a staple on the line for years to come. Pryce is 32 and may have a good year or 2 left, but we will have to wait and see if the new coaching staff considers his age and health issues worth the risk, as he also suffered a torn pectoral muscle this season.
Bart Scott 2007
This Ravens success against the rushing game also indicates a solid year by the linebackers. However, the big plays we have come to expect from this group just weren’t there to the extent that we are used to seeing. After picking up 9.5 sacks each in 2006, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott saw their numbers plummet this season, to just 5 and 1, respectively. Ray Lewis had a strong year and showed he still has more than a little left in the tank. His sack total dropped to 2 from 5 last year, but he had 2 interceptions for the second straight season, one of which he returned for the 3rd touchdown of his career, and first since 2003. Some may point to the loss of Adalius Thomas as the reason for the sub-par play of the Ravens’ LBs, but we think it had much more to do with all the injuries around them. While the ‘backers stayed fairly healthy throughout the season, the injuries to Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister, and Samari Rolle really hobbled what Rex Ryan was able to do with this bunch. Backups in the secondary meant that the LBs had to drop into coverage more, and blitz less, and when they did rush, they were picked up more often than not by the blocker that didn’t have to worry about double-teaming Pryce.
This group was also responsible for their share of controversy in 2007. Ray Lewis publicly called out Brian Billick on his radio show after the Buffalo game, questioning Billick’s playcalling. It is widely speculated around town that Lewis had more than a little to do with the firing of Billick. Bart Scott had his well-documented breakdown/temper tantrum at the end of the New England game, where he threw an official’s flag into the stands, which resulted in the squashing of any iota of hope the Ravens offense had to march down the field for a quick score to tie or win that game.
Terrell Suggs is an unrestricted free agent, and it will be very interesting what the new coaches decide to do with him. Personally, I’d like to see him locked up to a long term deal, but the Ravens may decide to slap the franchise tag on him, or just let him walk.
Finally we come to the unit that probably had the MOST to do with the Ravens dismal 2007 campaign. Injuries decimated the secondary, as Chris McAlister was limited to 8 games with a knee injury, and Samari Rolle to 6 games due to problems stemming from epilepsy. These two combined for 9 interceptions and 32 games started in 2006, and just 2 INT and 13 games started in 2007. For all the complaining that Ravens’ fans did about Rolle in ’06, and that they have done about McAlister for his entire career, we saw first hand this year what happens to our defense without them, and it was not pretty. When you can’t count on your corners to cover receivers one-on-one it severely limits everything you do on defense. The Ravens’ lack of depth in the secondary was exposed, as Corey Ivy, David Pittman, and Derrick Martin got burnt time and time again filling in for Rolle and C-Mac.
On the back end of the secondary, safety Ed Reed had his typical season, and was named as the Ravens’ only All-Pro. He started all 16 games for the 5th time in his 6 year career, and picked up 7 interceptions, while also serving as the Ravens’ punt returner in critical situations. He played more disciplined this year than he has in years past, not gambling for the big play as often. However, this may have been more out of necessity than out of maturity on Reed’s part, as he suddenly found himself as the most experienced member of the group, and he was often charged with covering the butts of the young corners. Second year man Dawan Landry seemed to suffer a bit of a “sophomore slump.” After picking up 5 interceptions in his rookie season, he was shut out in ’07, and we hardly ever heard his name called on broadcasts. As Stephen over at RavensTD points out, it may be a good idea to have Landry watch video loops of Bob Sanders for the entire offseason.
Cornerback should be a top priority for the Ravens going into the draft, and they may even be able to trade down a few slots to get their guy, should they choose to go that route. To us anyway, a solid young CB makes much more sense than any of the QB prospects that may be on the board.
The Ravens special teams had an OK year. Matt Stover again found himself the Ravens main offensive weapon for a while there. He he had one game winning field goal as time expired, but missed another in OT that would have saved the Ravens a lot of face (and perhaps Brian Billick his job) in Miami. His 27 field goals made and 84.4% FG percentage were both his lowest since 2002. Punter Sam Koch upped his average net to 43.6 from 43.0 last season, good for 13th in the NFL.
In the return game, B.J. Sams was lost for the season in week 1, and rookie Yamon Figurs showed some good things. He was 14th in punt return avg. and 10th in kickoff return avg. (among players with at least 30 returns), with 1 touchdown coming on a punt return. Ed Reed also returned a punt for a touchdown.