BALTIMORE — The retooled Baltimore Ravens’ defense made a heck of a first impression in the preseason opener, limiting the Washington Redskins to three points, eight first downs and 138 yards.
It’s difficult to improve on those numbers, yet the unit intends to be even better when the regular season begins Sept. 10 in Cincinnati.
With newcomers Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr patrolling the back end and Kamelei Correa stepping in at the middle linebacker post for the retired Zachary Orr, the traditionally rugged defense informally launched a new era Thursday night with a 23-3 victory.
“It’s a good start, but we’re not satisfied,” said 34-year-old linebacker Terrell Suggs, the dean of the defense. “We’ve got to do it for 16 games.”
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome entered the offseason looking to improve a defense that was crushed by a lack of depth in the latter stages of 2016. Baltimore lost three of its last four games — allowing 114 points in the process — to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Newsome signed free agents Jefferson and Carr, drafted Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick, and followed by taking defensive players with his next three selections.
Baltimore now appears to have a unit that can compensate for an offense that might need time to jell. Ryan Mallett threw for only 58 yards in 30 minutes against Washington, but he didn’t turn over the ball and provided Baltimore with a 13-0 lead at halftime.
With starting quarterback Joe Flacco sidelined with a sore back, free agent Colin Kaepernick remains an option to take snaps behind an offensive line still in a rebuilding stage.
The defense, however, gave the announced crowd of 70,469 plenty to yell about Thursday night.
“We ran the ball, stopped the run, we got to the quarterback, and we covered people,” coach John Harbaugh said.
In their 11 possessions, the Redskins punted nine times, threw an interception and kicked a field goal after a drive of 18 yards.
“It felt good. Guys getting after the ball, getting some stops, getting three-and-outs and getting off the field,” Carr said. “Now we just have to go back to the film and clean up our mistakes, find ways for us to improve.”
Defensive end Brent Urban led the charge with four tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack. Urban played in 16 games last year (no starts), but the 6-foot-7, 300-pounder appears poised to be a game changer.
“There’s a lot of pressure to be a starter for this Ravens’ defense, all the history and all that kind of stuff,” Urban said. “You really expect a lot out of yourself and the coaches expect a lot out of you. It kind of pushes you to play better.”
Second-year tackle Michael Pierce teamed with Brandon Williams to clog the middle at the outset, and their replacements continued to frustrate a Washington running game that produced just 39 yards on 18 carries.
“We’re young but we’re hungry, and that’s really the most important thing,” Pierce said. “We’re all eager to make a name for ourselves, make a statement. We want to be the best defense in the league.”
Step One is complete. What now?
“Keep building,” Jefferson said. “Fix the mistakes that were made and try and go undefeated.”