ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Darian Stewart's game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter on Jan. 3 cemented Baltimore's wild-card win over Pittsburgh and capped a season in which he delivered his most consistent start-to-finish performance in his five seasons to date.
His tackling improved. He cut his mistakes in coverage. He worked at both strong and free safety, enhancing his value.
And now he gets to play with a first-team secondary that already features three Pro Bowlers, all of whom are locked in with long-term contracts for the next three years or more.
"I feel like I'm the final piece of the puzzle," Stewart said. "The secondary, man, they're one of the [best] in the league, and adding myself, I think we can get it done out there."
As a tackler, Stewart turned a corner in 2014. ProFootballFocus.com credited him with eight missed tackles, a rate of one every 6.625 opportunities that ranks 42nd among 87 safeties who took at least 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps.
That's a much better rate than the man he will replace. Moore had 12 missed tackles, and with one miss every 4.583 opportunities, he ranked 75th of the 87 safeties.
Tackling was the area in which Stewart made his biggest leap last year. In four years with the Rams, he had 36 missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com -- one every 4.138 opportunities.
In his St. Louis years, Stewart too often went for the massive, shoulder-leading shot rather than the proper form tackle. With the Ravens, he improved his fundamentals, and that helped him minimize big plays and reduce the yardage after the catch permitted -- from 6.12 yards per reception from 2010-13 to 5.71 yards, per ProFootballFocus.com.
If Stewart can continue to improve at containing plays deep when the need arises, that will free strong safety T.J. Ward to attack on intermediate routes.
"He's a thumper, man, and I think I add to that with my versatility and playing back deep and getting the ball," Stewart said.
"I saw him play a little bit last year," Ward said. "I just know him from coming out together (in the 2010 NFL Draft). I know he's a pretty good player."