Under pressure: Ravens defense swarms Cardinals in 30-27 win

October 30, 2011 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — While most attention fell directly on the shoulders of a Baltimore offense that couldn’t get out of its own way in the first half and couldn’t be stopped in the final 30 minutes, the 30-27 comeback victory over Arizona wouldn’t have been possible without a swarming defensive effort by the Ravens to earn the greatest comeback in franchise history.

After two turnovers and a special teams score essentially gift-wrapped 21 points to the Cardinals in the second quarter, the Baltimore defense buckled down after intermission, allowing a mere 56 total yards and minus-1 passing yards as Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb had no answers for the pass rush. The Ravens finished the day with a season-high six sacks, including two from third-year linebacker Paul Kruger and one from Terrell Suggs, who also led the team with 13 tackles.

It continued an early-season trend of tremendous pressure and stellar defense in support of a maddeningly-inconsistent Ravens offense. Without it, the Ravens’ 24-point explosion in the second half may have been all for naught.

Five players collected sacks, giving the Ravens 25 through the first seven games of the season under new, aggressive defense coordinator Chuck Pagano. It’s a stark contrast to a year ago when the Baltimore defense produced a franchise-low 27 under former coordinator Greg Mattison.

“It was like we all had a knack to do it,” Suggs said. “The game that those guys were having, I was really flattered to be their teammate. I thought to myself, we can be special, we can be a special group. I think it’s like a confidence thing.”

That confidence didn’t waver despite just six points from the offense in the first half. Instead of buckling under the pressure of an 18-point deficit and taking unnecessary chances, the Ravens allowed only one second-half drive that was greater than 13 yards, a 38-yard, penalty-aided march that resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Jay Feely in the fourth quarter.

“Second half, what we did when we came out is we played Ravens-style football,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “The offense got back to doing what they do. Joe [Flacco] threw the ball very efficiently. [Anquan Boldin] had a great day, and Ray [Rice] was Ray, and all the different pieces. I think, defensively, you go from the first half to the second half, I think we just turned our level up just a little bit. First half, they didn’t have that many plays on us, but they had enough to gain that lead. I just think overall as a team, we came out and did some great things.”

New offensive identity?

With the Ravens shifting to a no-huddle, shotgun attack for most of the second half, they produced 24 points and 249 yards of total offense after being held to six points and 156 yards in the first two quarters.

The Baltimore offense’s longest drive of the second half was only 3:12 despite scoring four times on their way to the comeback victory. Joe Flacco threw for 238 yards in the second half on his way to finishing the game with career highs in attempts (51) and completions (31) and his seventh career 300-yard passing game.

“I think we react well to the hurry-up,” Flacco said. “I think it can put a defene on their heels a little bit. I think it can wear them out a little bit. It’s tough to rush the passer, rush the passer, really be able to hold up in there and continue to get that good pass rush.”

It certainly appeared to help the offensive line after it turned in arguably it’s worst half of the season as Cardinals defenders were constantly in Flacco’s face prior to halftime.

Perhaps even more interesting was the Ravens’ extensive use of tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in a pseudo four-receiver set with the two being used as slot receivers. Dickson and Pitta were targeted 17 times, finishing with a combined 12 receptions for 90 yards.

The Ravens only ran the ball 11 times in the second half while Flacco attempted 28 second-half passes. It’s not exactly the balanced attack critics are calling for, but the second half should convince offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and head coach John Harbaugh that the no-huddle offense should be a very realistic bullet in the Ravens offense.

Big day for Boldin

Though he downplayed the significance of playing his former team all week, wide receiver Anquan Boldin turned in a dominating performance against the Cardinals, producing the most receiving yards of his two-year stay in Baltimore with 145 yards on seven catches.

Boldin’s dominance was on full display with the Ravens’ second scoring drive of the third quarter when he caught four passes for 80 yards, even with defensive backs draped all over him. His 145 yards rank as the seventh-best output of his nine-year career.

The veteran receiver felt he could exploit the Cardinals’ young cornerbacks and thought he could be successful even with good coverage.

“That’s one of the reasons I was brought here,” Boldin said. “There’s a lot of times when you are covered. I mean, if a guy’s on you, in this league, that’s [still being] open. Joe was able to put the ball in the right place, and I was able to make a play on it.”

Odds & ends

The Ravens’ 21-point comeback victory was the largest in team history. The previous high was a 19-point comeback win against the Titans in Nashville on Nov. 12, 2006. … Running back Ray Rice posted a career-high three rushing touchdowns, becoming the third player in Ravens history to accomplish the feat. Jamal Lewis did it twice and Willis McGahee was the most recent back to do it. … Kicker Billy Cundiff hit the seventh game-winning field goal of his career when he connected on a 25-yarder as time expired. It was his third game-winner in his three-year career with the Ravens. … The Ravens are the only team this season that hasn’t allowed an opponent to score on a game-opening drive. … Baltimore has now started the season at 5-2 for the fourth time in team history (2000, 2006, and 2010 were the others). … There were no new injuries reported after the game, according to the Ravens.

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