BALTIMORE (AP) — In his first game as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Dean Pees watched Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan follow the opening kickoff with five straight completions for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Not exactly what Pees was looking for from a unit that has exuded excellence for well over a decade.
Sure, it was only a preseason game and middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn’t play. But Pees would probably have been just as ticked off if it happened in a scrimmage on the practice field.
“We need to get off to a fast start. That’s the thing that disappointed us,” Pees said this week. “We got off to a slow start, and we don’t want to let anybody ever drive the ball on us, let alone go down and score on the first possession. That’s certainly not a way you want to start the game.”
The revamped Ravens defense will attempt to improve that shortcoming Friday night against the Detroit Lions, whose first-team offense sputtered last Friday in the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
On its opening series, the Lions went three-and-out. Matthew Stafford threw an interception to end the second possession. After seven plays and a punt on the third series, Stafford and the rest of the first unit took a seat to try to figure out what went wrong.
Against the Ravens, Detroit has a second chance to make things right.
“Hopefully, we play a lot better. We need to play a lot better,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We need to play with a little more sense of urgency.”
Even if the final outcome doesn’t mean a darn thing.
“When you face a force like the Ravens, it’s exciting if you have an ounce of competitive nature,” said Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson, who was held without a catch against Cleveland. “You have to say, this game doesn’t count, but we’re still trying to score and we’re preparing for it as if it is a real game. The Ravens are going to try to bang us and try to force fumbles and interceptions. I think this preseason game will have a regular-season type atmosphere.”
Much has changed for the Baltimore defense since the AFC championship game. The unit has a new leader in Pees, who takes over Chuck Pagano, now head coach of the Colts. The Ravens are also trying to fill holes created by an injury to standout linebacker Terrell Suggs and the departure of free agents Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson.
At this juncture, the defense is a work in progress. The biggest priority is finding someone who can help with a pass rush that will sorely miss Suggs and Redding, who combined for 18 1/2 sacks in 2011.
“You never like to lose guys, but the nature of this business is guys are going to come and guys are going to go,” defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. “You just kind of have to look at what you have and say, `OK, let’s move on. Where do we go from here? How are we going to do this?’ Luckily enough, we have some good, young bodies around here that we feel will come along well. It’s not a concern; it’s more of kind of figuring out how the pieces are going to fit in the puzzle after they’re gone.”
The Ravens are intent upon stuffing Stafford and the Detroit offense. Burleson and the Lions have no intention of letting that happen.
“We want to score early and often,” Burleson said. “We don’t want to sound cocky, but our standard is that we expect to score every time we have the ball. For us not to score against Cleveland, it kind of burned a little bit. It took us some time to calm down and get ready for our next opportunity.”
Baltimore’s offensive line is under construction. Veteran guard Bobbie Williams is trying to find a comfort zone among his new teammates and tackle Bryant McKinnie is working his way back into the mix after reporting late. Backup Jah Reid returned this week after missing time with a strained right calf.
The Ravens will be tested by a Detroit defense working on building a reputation.
“They are just a real physical, talented football team,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us. I’m pretty sure, knowing that team’s personality, they are going to try to come in here and make a statement, even though it’s a preseason. Our guys will understand that.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)