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Despite Loss, Trio of Rookie Defenders Impressive

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For a second consecutive week, the stout play – for the most part – by the Baltimore Ravens defense proved to be not quite enough. In each of the last two games, the defense has allowed only 19 points; however, holding Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger to a combined 38 points is still too much nowadays for the Ravens as the offense continues to struggle.

Lost in the entire 3-4 season has been the consistent dominance on the defensive side. The pass rush is potent, rookies are contributing, and the defensive backs aren’t getting burned as much this season.

The play of the rookie defensive players can be attributed to much of Baltimore’s defensive success on Sunday against the Steelers.

The team’s first three 2013 draft picks – Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams – all had considerable roles, and all three did well.

Let’s take a look at each.

Matt Elam

Sunday was Matt Elam’s breakout game schematically. For the first time this season, the Ravens let Elam continuously roam around the line of scrimmage. The results were positive, as expected.

For a guy who has had his fair share of struggles in coverage this season, on Sunday he was the enforcer the Ravens need him to be up front.

With the Steelers in a scoring situation, Elam comes up to play against the run.

As Roethlisberger is handing off the ball, Elam is already making his way into the backfield and diagnosing the run play.

He gets to running back Le’Veon Bell before he can even reach the line of scrimmage. Elam uses his lack of height (5’10”) to his advantage as he is able to square up on the 6’1″ Bell, one of the taller backs in the NFL.

Elam easily wraps up Bell and brings him down for no gain.

This is the type of play Elam is capable of: using his instincts and speed near the line to break up a run play before it begins.

As he shows his value up front more, perhaps his role will gradually move toward plays like this instead of being the backend safety.

Arthur Brown

Splitting time with Jameel McClain on Sunday, Arthur Brown was far from flashy, although he was used on some situations as a pass rusher. Overall, he had a pedestrian afternoon, but he also helped prevent a few big plays.

Playing the run here, Brown uses one of his best traits – his patience – to wait and diagnose the run play, occupying the correct gap.

On this play, the run is designed toward Brown’s side of the defense.

Off the snap, two running lanes begin to develop for Bell, and Brown remains between the two lanes.

Bell chooses the outside lane, and Brown waits until right before Bell is about to break through to make his pursuit.

Brown and defensive end Arthur Jones diagnose the run play, and both collapse on Bell as he begins to break through the hole, preventing a large gain.

If Brown were to choose the inside running lane, Bell would have only had Jones to beat in the outside lane, and if he made it past Jones, it would have resulted in a gain of at least 15 yards.

Brandon Williams

With the lack of a major impact from nose tackle Haloti Ngata on Sunday, rookie Brandon Williams was called upon to step up and be a force in the middle.

He did just that, playing well against the run and as a pass rusher.

On this play, Williams uses his inherent strength to come up with a sack.

The Ravens have three down linemen in the nickel package, with Williams occupying the A gap.

As the pocket collapses on Roethlisberger, Williams successfully pushes the center toward the quarterback, forcing him to scramble, where Williams utilizes his containment role.

Williams easily reacts to the scramble, sheds the center’s block, and brings down Roethlisberger for the sack.

This is a prime example of how the strength of Williams has helped him this season. The ability to quickly shed a block and wrap up the quarterback as he’s leaving the pocket is a valuable commodity for the Ravens defense.

The three rookies spotlighted in the article are the only three defensive rookies who figure to have major roles the rest of this season, but if they can continue their progression, the Ravens will have a talented trio to rely on this year and in the future.

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