The calm exterior of James Ihedigo hides a ferocity that was unleashed on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The safety, picked up by the Ravens just a week before the season started after he was released by the New England Patriots, was responsible for knocking one player out of Sunday’s 13-10 and another for possibly the rest of the season.
"He was a physical force out there the whole game – on defense when he played and especially on special teams, every phase of special teams," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s got a lot of pride, and he fits right in."
When Jacoby Jones scored the Ravens’ only touchdown on a 63-yard punt return, Ihedigbo had a block that helped open a lane just past midfield. He buried Will Allen, who didn’t return to the game because of a shoulder injury.
With the Steelers trying to generate a drive with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter and the ball on the Ravens’ 43, Ihedigbo got his first sack in two years. He drilled quarterback Byron Leftwich from his blindside for a 7-yard loss on third down to force a punt.
Two of Leftwich’s ribs were broken on the play and he’s now out and being replaced by third-string quarterback Charlie Batch. The Steelers have to play at Baltimore in two weeks.
"We played physical from the beginning of the game to the end of the game," said Ihedibgo, who only played four defensive snaps but 25 on special teams.
He went to the Super Bowl in his only season with the Patriots one year ago, starting 12 games. Even though he’s on the second-team behind hard-hitting Bernard Pollard, Ihedigbo sees his first Steelers game in the rivalry as a sign that he has arrived as a Raven.
"I definitely would say that. I was talking to coach Harbs before. This is why they brought me here, is for the Pittsburgh Steelers games," he said. "You have to be a physical presence in a game like this."
The Ravens defense has been a work in progress. They’ve lost key players in the secondary, at linebacker and on the front. They’ve given up lots of yards, too, and at the bottom of the rankings in many categories. But they’re getting better.
"We don’t want to be the best defensive team in the league come Week 1. We don’t want that. We want to gradually build towards that. When you’re going into Week 16, you’re going into the playoffs, you’re the best defense in the NFL, that’s how you win championships," Ihedigbo said. "We understand that. We’re getting better each week, correcting the things we need to correct and we’re playing with a chip on our shoulders. It’s attitude."