In league of its own, Ravens' defense is now 'chasing history'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- At a time when NFL offenses are putting up points as if it's a Madden video game, the Baltimore Ravens are defiantly bucking the trend by demolishing quarterbacks, shredding running games and blockading the end zone.

The Ravens rank No. 1 in yards allowed, giving up 35.7 yards per game fewer than any other defense in the league. Baltimore is No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing 12.8 points per game while no one else is holding teams under 17 points.

The title of the NFL's best defense through six games unquestionably goes to the Ravens. Statistically, Baltimore is in a class of its own.

The Ravens, though, have bigger goals in mind.

"We’re chasing history right now," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "We’re not looking around at the other 31 teams. We’re looking at all the greats from when the league was first established until now."

The Ravens have a ways to go before they get mentioned with the 1985 Chicago Bears or their own record-breaking 2000 defense, but this year's defense already has begun rewriting the history books with these accomplishments:

  • Setting a franchise record with 11 sacks in Tennessee. The Ravens fell one short of the NFL mark and produced more sacks than completions allowed (10). Baltimore produced more sacks in this game than what seven other teams have had through the first six weeks of the season.

  • Establishing a modern-era mark by not giving up a second-half touchdown in the first six games. The last NFL team to do so was the 1934 Lions, who dominated the likes of the Boston Redskins, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Gunners 84 years ago.

  • Becoming the first team to shut out the Titans in Nashville. The last time that franchise was shut out at home was 1976, when the Houston Oilers were held scoreless at the Astrodome.

  • Holding the Pittsburgh Steelers to 19 yards rushing. That was the Steelers' fewest rushing yards at home since 1952, when Pittsburgh played at Forbes Field.

All of the Ravens' milestones should be underscored because they have come during an age when the rules favor the offense. This is the fantasy football era that's geared to Patrick Mahomes and Todd Gurley -- and not shutouts. As a result, teams have racked up the most points (4,489) and touchdowns (504) through six weeks in NFL history.

"The game has changed over the years, but good players, good coaching and sound defense can always make things tough on offense," safety Eric Weddle said. "Baltimore is known for defense. It shouldn’t be that surprising that we play that well on defense."

The Ravens return all of their starters from a defense that ranked No. 12 in the league last season. What has made this defense go from very good to great is new coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's aggressive game plans and improved depth.

This season, Baltimore has blitzed 35 percent of the time, which is the third-highest rate in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This pressure has led to the lowest completion percentage against the blitz (48.6 percent).

The Ravens have capitalized on the maturity of their young players, which allows them to show multiple looks and wear down teams. Baltimore has had 13 players record at least one sack and 14 players make at least one pass deflection.

"There's really no weakness," said New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who faces the Ravens on Sunday. "I really have a ton of respect for these guys. Whether it's defending the run or the pass or getting pressure on the quarterback -- they're just good in every facet of the game."

The Ravens believe the Saints represent their measuring stick. The Saints are the NFL's highest-scoring offense, averaging 36 points per game. Brees is coming off a game in which he became the league's all-time leader in passing yards.

This is the 10th matchup since the 1970 merger that features a team averaging over 35 points per game against a team that allows 15 points or fewer per game at least five games into the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The top offense has won seven of the previous nine meetings.

"This happens to be the best offense in the league, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, [and] they have weapons," Weddle said. "They present challenges, but so do we. We’re excited for this matchup."

An argument can be made that the Ravens have taken advantage of some of the weaker offenses in the league. Baltimore has played only one top-10 offense this season, and the Steelers were without running back Le'Veon Bell.

The Ravens' upcoming schedule features games against Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Mahomes and Philip Rivers.

"When we start facing some juggernauts and we’ll be able to match up against some really, really good teams, we'll see where we’re really at," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "Right now, [we played] hard road tests granted, but we need to prove what we can do against a really good quarterback. That’s what really matters."

The Ravens' numbers are even more impressive when you consider the C.J. Mosley factor. Take away the four touchdowns allowed in the first half when Mosley went down with a knee injury, and the Ravens have given up only two touchdowns in four games with the three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker.

Overall, Baltimore ranks No. 1 in seven of the 12 major defensive categories and No. 2 in two others.

"I guess they say you can’t stop anyone these days -- you can only contain them," Carr said. "That’s why we play the game, because we believe we can go out there and shut down our opponents. Against the biggest, the baddest and the best, we try to find a way to chop them down."