Ravens’ vaunted defense is struggling early

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers say everything you need to know about the Ravens over the past 12 years.

Top three in points allowed per game, total defense, takeaways, rushing yards per game, third-down conversion, opponent’s quarterback rating, interceptions, and interceptions for touchdowns.

Since 1999, only 27 players have rushed for 100 yards on them.

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The defense has scored at least one touchdown in each of the franchise’s 16 seasons.

So seeing the Ravens in the bottom third of the NFL in defense through the first two games of the year is puzzling.

They have allowed 808 total yards (258 on the ground), sixth-most in the league. The most obvious reason is the absence of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is out indefinitely with an Achilles’ tendon injury suffered in the offseason.

They had a 17-7 halftime lead on the Eagles last week, and even forced four turnovers, but they couldn’t keep Michael Vick from scrambling and the Eagles from rallying to save face at home, 24-23.

For a defense that has been the NFL’s gold standard for years, there is much room for improvement as they prepare to play the Patriots Sunday night.

“Anybody, wherever you start at, you can always fix things here and there and make things better,” said veteran linebacker Ray Lewis. “At the end of the year, every year, is when you pay attention to stats. Trust me, we’ve never gotten into stats early.

“That’s why, when people talk about our defense or whatever they want to say at the beginning of the year, we always say, ‘Find us at the end of the year and you know where we’re going to be.’ ”

The absence of Suggs, whose 14 sacks and 70 tackles made him the face of the defense last season, is a crucial factor. But they also lost linebacker Jarrett Johnson, who signed a four-year deal with the Chargers.

“I think people realize that we don’t have Terrell Suggs outside and Jarrett Johnson,” said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. “So I think they tried to test our younger guys last week with Philly, but I think our guys did great up front.

“We’re not used to having teams try to run on us as much, and a lot of it starts up front. So if we can stop that run early and just try to pressure the quarterback better, I think once we can do that, our defense can be more dominant.”

Former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis, now with the Bengals, rushed for 91 yards against Baltimore in the opener, and Vick and LeSean McCoy combined for 115 yards last week.

The biggest red flag last week was Eagles tight end Brent Celek catching eight passes for 157 yards, including a 24-yarder on which he hurdled safety Ed Reed.

Even though Aaron Hernandez is out with an ankle injury, Rob Gronkowski remains one of the Patriots’ biggest weapons, and they also signed Kellen Winslow Jr. to help at tight end. “We have to prepare like he’s not going to be out,” said cornerback Lardarius Webb . “They went and got them another tight end, just as good as the other one.

“So we have to prepare for the Patriots like they’re the Patriots. They have Tom Brady, the best quarterback in the game. So it’s going to be a tough, tough game this week. It doesn’t matter who’s lined up at tight end. If you have No. 12 at quarterback, he’ll make them all look good.”

Our house

It has been so long since the Patriots played in Baltimore that Ravens coach John Harbaugh needed some verification.

“How many times have we played them at their place?” he said. “I can’t believe you guys don’t have that at your fingertips.”

The Patriots haven’t played in Baltimore since 2007. The last four meetings, including two playoff games, have been at Gillette Stadium. It’s fair to say the Ravens have been dying to get the Patriots in their building.

“That will be different, right?” Harbaugh said.

Since 1996, they have faced each other eight times, with six of those games in Foxborough. The Patriots lead the series, 7-1 (1-1 in the postseason), and they won both games in Baltimore. But the Ravens have won 11 straight home games, the longest active streak in the league

Another streak worth noting: With Baltimore coming off a painful 24-23 loss to the Eagles, the Ravens are 13 for 13 in bounce-back games since 2009.

“When you win, you look at everything really hard and you try to build on it,” Harbaugh said.