4. If you haven’t already, it’s time to forgive Lardarius Webb for surrendering the long Antonio Brown catch in the playoffs last January. When the third-year cornerback started against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, most assumed it was a temporary solution as the Ravens awaited the returns of veteran Domonique Foxworth and 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith. However, Webb has not only held onto the position, but he’s blossomed into a bona fide NFL starter at a position he’s still learning after playing safety at Nicholls State before the Ravens selected him in the third round of the 2009 draft. The mere thought that the Ravens looked to transition a college safety to cornerback — not the usual other way around — speaks how highly they thought of Webb’s athleticism and overall talent, and the 26-year-old is finally living up to the billing. It’s easy to forget how well he was progressing in his rookie season before tearing his ACL in Week 15. Just seven months later, Webb was back on the field and trying to regain lost ground while playing with a knee that was less than 100 percent. After he gave up the long reception to Brown in the crushing playoff loss to the Steelers to end last season, Webb used the temporary failure as motivation to work harder on his own as players were locked out of the Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills this offseason. His team-high four interceptions suggest his efforts have paid off, and it’s intriguing to think where Webb might be in his development as a cornerback had he had normal offseasons over the last two years. Webb lacks the ceiling of Smith, but his physicality and improved technique will likely allow him to hold onto a starting job for quite some time.
5. The Ravens lead the NFL in sacks this season after collecting a franchise-worst 27 in 2010. The obvious answer is new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and his more aggressive style over Greg Mattison’s conservative approach that drew the ire of fans over the vanilla three- and four-man rushes on third down. However, that explanation is too simplistic as you look at the contributions the Ravens have received from third-year rush linebacker Paul Kruger and rookie Pernell McPhee on third down. Baltimore has also received better play from veteran Cory Redding on first and second down after a quiet first year with the Ravens. While many have pointed to the improved rush as the reason for the Ravens’ success in defending the pass (fifth in pass defense), can we also credit the coverage for some of those 38 sacks this season? The play of the secondary has allowed Pagano to remain aggressive with his calls instead of being forced to drop seven or eight men into coverage. The reality is the Ravens have seen improvements from personnel — old and new — as well as a refined commitment to get to the opposing quarterback. Pagano deserves plenty of credit, but the coaching change is just one of several variables factoring in the Ravens’ success with hunting down the quarterback.