Boy, does the fact that the Baltimore Ravens allowed 49 points in Week 1 seem like a long time ago or what?
Ever since the 49-point debacle in Denver to start the season, Baltimore’s defense has allowed just 15 points, and no touchdowns. Of course, not having to face Peyton Manning doesn’t hurt, but it looks like the Ravens’ new defense is finally starting to come together.
Taking time to gel was expected, and now Baltimore’s defense appears primed to be much better than last year.
On Sunday against the Houston Texans, the defense was dominant yet again.
Here are a few key defensive plays that decided the game.
Q1, 7:15 remaining, 3rd and 9
The Texans were able to shave eight minutes off the clock on their opening drive; however, they only managed to get three points out of it. Part of the reason for that was the secondary’s ability to buckle down in the red zone for the Ravens.
Facing a third down inside the 10, the Texans came out in a shotgun look with an 11 personnel.
The Ravens are in man coverage with three safeties. However, one safety, James Ihedigbo (circled), creeps up just before the snap to cover the tight end.
Off the snap, the Ravens have tight coverage across the field, and Elvis Dumervil’s ability to get a push on Houston’s right tackle off the snap puts quarterback Matt Schaub under pressure.
Schaub is forced to throw underneath to his tight end Owen Daniels, and Ihedigbo’s blanket coverage forces the pass incomplete, leading to a Texans field goal.
In the offseason, the Ravens added safeties Michael Huff and Matt Elam for situations like this, but if Ihedigbo can cover a tight end like this regularly, this may be one of his key roles this season.
Q2, 3:15 remaining, 1st and 10
Perhaps Baltimore’s most important offseason addition was veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Known for his coverage ability, his services were certainly wanted after poor performances by Baltimore’s inside linebackers last season in coverage. Smith’s coverage instincts were on full display in the second quarter when he intercepted a Schaub pass and returned it for a touchdown.
The Texans are in the shotgun with an 11 personnel and a bunch formation to the left.
Off the snap, Daniels runs a crossing route, while the other two receivers on his side run routes downfield. This is a typical Texans offensive play, as their offense is predicated on these quick, easy throws for Schaub.
Unfortunately for Houston, Smith was in the AFC South long enough to not be fooled by this play, and he quickly diagnoses Daniels coming across the middle.
Smith jumps the route, and well, the rest is history, as his touchdown return gave the Ravens a 10-6 lead en route to a 30-9 victory.
Q3, 1:55 remaining, 1st and 10
One Ravens defender who provided a very underrated play on Sunday was outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
With the Texans driving in Ravens territory, they line up in an 11 personnel again (shocker, right?) and have a bunch formation to the left.
With every receiver covered, the only easy option for Schaub is running back Ben Tate coming out of the backfield, which forces Upshaw to choose between Tate and the tight end he is covering.
Schaub throws to Tate, and Upshaw makes the proper decision to hone in on Tate as the ball is in the air.
Upshaw, known more for his run-stopping instincts than his open field tackling ability, wrapped Tate up and brought him down for a five-yard loss.
Having a player like Upshaw make open field tackles like this is key for a Ravens team that figures to let up plenty of big plays in the secondary this season.
On the bright side, if the Ravens can prevent big plays from happening out of the backfield and underneath – as they did in the three plays above – then the defense will be well on its way to being greatly improved over last year’s unit.