Last year, the Ravens not only wanted to create a defense that played well, but one that was truly special.
After dedicating 5 of their 7 draft picks to defensive players in 2017, many thought the Ravens accumulated enough depth to take the final steps in building the defense of their dreams.
They thought that dream might have come true after boasting a passing defense that ranked 10th in the league despite losing Jimmy Smith for the last four games of the season.
I mean, how can you criticize a defense that pitched three shutouts in one season and also led the league in turnovers and interceptions? On the topic of dreams, you must have been fast asleep if you didn’t notice how unbelievable that unit was!
As a matter of fact, Ravens fans were wide awake. And everything they saw was actually pretty believable.
In 2017, fans watched their playoff dreams turn into nightmares after once again coming to the unfortunate realization that their beloved defense couldn’t finish games.
— A game-winning Steelers FG drive that lead to a 39-38 loss in Week 14 was the huge splash of cold water that woke the Ravens from their slumber.
— A last-second TD pass to Tyler Boyd to knock the Ravens out of a playoff spot in Week 17 was the insomnia that kept them up at night. It’s easy to believe something you’re so used to.
Notice the theme here or have you dozed off already?
Perhaps you have been too busy sleeping on the main point? Or maybe you’re tired of these horrendous puns and don’t want to wait until sunrise to find out?
Don’t worry, I’m going to put this one to rest.
Now, I’m really done.
It was never a lack of talent that lead to such disappointment of a once promising Ravens 2017 defense. It was their lack of direction, discipline, communication and, most importantly, the right defensive coordinator. Fast-forward one season to the present to find another team on the brink of suffering the same fate, but it isn’t the Ravens this time.
Dean Pees, who’s now the DC of the Titans, again possesses a strong passing defense (5th), a run defense that has struggled early on (26th) and, the big one, a defense that can’t finish games. Minus the turnovers, that’s eerily similar to the 2017 Ravens defense.
Oh, how the tables have turned.
FIRE DEAN PEES
— Thomas Skinner (@tommiy4199) October 14, 2018
The 2018 Ravens are on the verge of finally possessing a special defense.
Let’s start with the man who’s responsible for making that possible.
106 total yards allowed (51 passing yards, 55 rushing yards), 11 sacks, shutout win
When I first started Purple Stars, I never thought I’d be writing about a coach. But how could I not talk about the guy who commands a Ravens defense that has surrendered the fewest points per game (12.8 PPG), fewest yards per game (270.8 YPG) and hasn’t allowed a single second-half TD all season? And after coaching one of the best defensive performances in team history right in the face of your predecessor, you bet your ass Wink Martindale gets a Purple Star.
First off, 11 sacks in one game is RIDICULOUS. That’s one sack shy from the NFL single-game record. This is especially impressive considering the Titans had only given up 9 sacks this season prior to playing the Ravens. But it gets better. The Ravens are now one of four teams since 1970 to earn over 10 sacks and allow 10 completions or under in a single game, per Elias. To emphasize how dominant the pass rush was, the Ravens were able to generate a sack on 39.3% of QB Marcus Mariota’s passing attempts. That’s the highest single-game sack rate recorded since 2012, per PFF.
Wink has accomplished some historical feats early in his tenure but none compares to his second-half TD shutout streak. Since 1970, the Ravens are the only team to prevent a second-half TD through their first six games of the season, per Elias. Now that’s what I call special.
Want one more accomplishment? Wink is the only Purple Star winner to ever be addressed by his nickname. Believe me, that’s big.
5 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
I savour any opportunity I get to write about Za’Darius Smith. After earning a hat trick in sacks, Smith now has a team-leading 5.5 sacks on the year and has asserted himself as the Ravens top pass rusher at generating QB pressure.
Smith clearly heard how most fans felt about him. Not many expected anyone to outpace Terrell Suggs. Coming into the season, Matt Judon was primed as the next Ravens breakthrough pass rusher. Even Tim Williams had a lot of hype after a strong preseason. Smith usually fell in the realm of “gone next season” or “will be overpaid elsewhere”. But it isn’t as easy to overlook him now as Smith currently ranks 4th among all NFL edge defenders in pass rushing productivity, per PFF.
Let’s talk about those sacks, which were all drive-enders on third down. Smith’s first sack came off a monstrous bull rush on RG Josh Kline to snatch Mariota before scrambling. His second sack was quick and dirty where Smith blew passed LG Quinton Spain with a swim move(?) and punched the ball right out of Mariota’s hands for the FF. His third sack (the 11th one) was just mean, as Smith shed the block of TE Anthony Firkser and patiently waited to level a scrambling Mariota after initially being pressured by C.J. Mosley.
On a historic day for Ravens defense, no player disrupted the game more than this dude. Every week Smith has added to his market value and has likely outpriced himself out of Baltimore. But in the meantime, sacks are nice.
6 catches, 93 yards, 1 TD
As someone who was totally fired up about signing Michael Crabtree, I was appalled to see him drop a game-winning TD pass last week. But this week was more than a redemption game for him, you could tell it was personal.
On a certain passing play, Joe Flacco wasn’t able to convert on third down after failing to complete a pass to an open Crabtree. The ball was poorly thrown and clearly out of his reach, but Crabtree had an interesting reaction. A close-up shot of Crabtree saw him walking along the sideline with his head down like he was disappointed in himself for not making the catch. This play was not his fault, but I love seeing the standard Crabtree has set for himself to improve.
This performance was vintage Crabtree at its best. Straight from his arsenal, Crabtree made a handful of nice catches outside the numbers on some cunning routes. His most impressive was a toe-tap catch along the sideline for 20-yards off a deep corner route that was executed with strong hands and concentration.
Crabtree also paved the way for the Ravens opening TD drive in which he made 3 catches, including the 4-yard TD reception. On a designed fade route, Crabtree stutter-stepped to gain a cushion on CB Malcolm Butler and did a full 180° once the ball was thrown. Noticing the high ball location across his body, Crabtree spun another 180° to haul in the contested catch. That’s a full 360°, and one very impressive display of ball tracking and body control.
Mitchell Wolfman @NorthernFlock