Wed, 28 Oct 2020

Ravens' Defense Has Many Disguises and a Desire to Dominate

Baltimore Ravens
17 Oct 2020, 04:25 GMT+10

Clifton Brown

The Ravens have many disguises on defense, but just one objective. They want to dominate.

"We want to be the best," safety Chuck Clark said. "We want to be No. 1 in every category. So that's our goal, and we'll let the chips fall from there."

It's the quarterbacks who are falling against the Ravens. Baltimore is surrendering the fewest points in the NFL (15.3 per game) heading into Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Ravens are tied for second in quarterback hits with 47. Pro Football Focus ranks Baltimore's defense No. 1 in the NFL by its metrics heading into Week 6.

It's a defense fueled by the relentless blitz packages dialed up by Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, who doesn't believe in mercy rules when it comes to hitting quarterbacks.

"People like to say, 'High risk, high reward,' but yet we're No. 1 in scoring defense," Martindale said about blitzing. "So, I don't think that there's as much high risk as what people think.

"If you're coming off that bus and you're a nose or you're a corner, be ready to be a free runner to the quarterback, because we want to hit the quarterback and I think all 11 guys are all eligible to go do that. (Outside Linebackers Coach) Drew Wilkins and I, we have a late night on Monday where we're studying protections (and) we have a lot of fun doing it. We try to find the rule breakers, because ever since I've been to school, you can ask my mom and dad - well, you can ask my mom - I've always been good at breaking rules."

As creative as Martindale is with his defensive schemes, he's the first to credit the players for executing it. The Ravens have an abundance of talent on defense, and they added to it during the offseason by trading for Calais Campbell, signing Derek Wolfe and drafting inside linebacker Patrick Queen, the most recent AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

However, the trade that brought All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters to Baltimore last season accelerated the defense's ability to force turnovers. No player in the league has as many interceptions (29) as Peters since he entered the league in 2015, and with Peters and Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens have two lockdown corners who have become turnover machines.

Since Martindale became defensive coordinator in 2018, the Ravens defense has scored an NFL-high 11 touchdowns. They've forced a turnover in 18 consecutive games, the league's longest active streak. Humphrey has three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries during that stretch, while Peters has five interceptions and a fumble recovery. Baltimore's defensive unit has quickly become what it hoped to be - fast, furious, and forcing opponents into mistakes.

The Ravens' talented secondary led by Humphrey, Peters, Clark, Jimmy Smith and DeShon Elliott allows them to take chances that other teams simply won't take. They aren't afraid to leave their corners in one-on-one coverage. They aren't afraid to blitz their corners or safeties, because they blitz with precise timing and are good enough tacklers to bring quarterbacks to the ground.

Baltimore had five different defensive backs with a sack against the Cincinnati Bengals, becoming the first team in NFL history to do that.

It may be a long time until another team does that. Even the team's pass rushers such as outside linebacker Jaylon "Sack Daddy" Ferguson took notice.

"I'm about to give 'Sack Daddy' to Marlo (Marlon Humphrey), because Marlo is the sack man," Ferguson said. "Give it to the whole DB room. They stepped up. They're helping us out. We don't have regular DBs that are scared to tackle. We've got guys that are coming off the edge who are going to get sacks. Our DB's are like smaller versions of 'D-linemen."

Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow had never faced a defense with so many different looks, and at times the assault on him looked almost unfair.

Whether the Ravens can make life just as miserable for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on Sunday remains to be seen. Baltimore's defense was humbled by Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Week 3, who looked ready for whatever recipe the Ravens' defense cooked up. Wentz will undoubtedly look at tape to study what Baltimore did to Burrow, and what Mahomes did to Baltimore. But Wentz has already thrown nine interceptions this season, and knows Baltimore's defense will be hungry for more.

"When you look at the tape, you see speed," Wentz said via PhiladelphiaEagles.com. "You see a lot of speed in the secondary and the linebacker position. They fly around. They're going to try and disguise different looks and bring some funky pressures, really try to throw off your timing. The defensive backs, it's as good of a group as any. We've got to be aware of where those guys are at, and what they're doing."

The Ravens' defensive players love their scheme not only because it works, but because it's challenging and fun. Campbell and Matthew Judon can use their athleticism not only to rush the passer, but to drop into pass coverage. Peters got the first sack of his career against the Bengals. Every week, the game plan is unique and gives different players a chance to shine.

"We don't really care who makes a play, and I think that's what makes it so fun," Humphrey said. "Whoever makes a play, it seems like we all celebrate, like we made it, because we feel like we all had our hand in that play."

However, the Ravens know they can't rest on their defensive laurels. Six teams in the AFC are currently unbeaten or have just one loss. The Ravens look unlikely to separate themselves from the competition like they did during the 2019 regular season, making every game crucial.

But the Ravens have established a defensive identity, with an aggressive unit that can force takeaways and take over games. A defense like that can carry a team a long way. And so far, Smith likes what he sees.

"I think we have a really, extremely talented defense this year," Smith said. "I think 2011 comes to mind when I think of it. And 2017, I want to say, is another defense that (comes) to mind when I think of some strong defenses we've had. But this ranks right up there with all them."

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