Sunday marked the breakthrough game for third-year safety DeShon Elliott.
Elliott has had his moments here and there in a very incomplete career thus far. But on Sunday, he arrived loudly, forcing two fumbles, one of which resulted in a crucial turnover. He also should have had an interception of quarterback Carson Wentz to seal the game against Philadelphia in the fourth quarter. That’s the play he’s probably kicking himself for the most.
For my money, it was his second forced fumble that was more of the signature play. Miles Sanders broke off a 74-yard run along the left side sideline for a breakaway touchdown. The play seemed to be dead. Here comes Elliott streaking from behind, timing his punch-out of the ball from behind right before Sanders crossed the pylon, only for the ball to be scooped up by the Eagles’ J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for a gift touchdown.
Despite the outcome of the forced fumble, it was Elliott’s effort to chase down Sanders that stood out. Wasn’t that play the opposite of what you’d see from Earl Thomas last season? If anything, Thomas had a chance to run down Nick Chubb from behind on his 88-yard score and chose to ease up at midfield, pointing out that he could have “pulled” something.
— Herb Kirkstreit (@THE_OSU) January 7, 2020
200 IQ play by Miles Sanders here to set up the TD pic.twitter.com/JCAmqpM28I
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) October 18, 2020
Look, this isn’t meant to be hate against Thomas, who played at a high level for the team last season. But on the effort meter, you won’t get anything less than 100 percent from Elliott. He’s been hungry for this opportunity for the better part of three seasons now. While Thomas clearly didn’t mix well with the rest of the defensive backs and the culture they’ve established, Elliott is not only a natural fit, he’s turning into a vocal leader already.
As Elliott said after the game, “A lot of teams in the league would be excited to be 5-1 going into the bye week, but we’re not.” “We expect greatness, and right now, we’re not being great.”
I’ve already said [on Twitter] that I believe Elliott has the chance to be a more impactful playmaker than Thomas was in this defense last season. That comment met with some criticism. Hear me out as I explain what I meant.
This #Ravens defense is just a hurricane right now. Elliott has been everywhere today and seems completely comfortable. He offers more overall playmaking ability than Earl Thomas, and that’s not any slander against ET.
— Dev Panchwagh (@devpanchwagh) October 18, 2020
Elliott may not be a better player than Thomas was last season. At least not yet. But Elliott is already well on his way to creating more turnovers. By comparison, Thomas had two interceptions and one forced fumble in all of 2019.
And when I said the former Texas Longhorn has more upside as a playmaker than his predecessor, I mean he’s got the ability to impact the game in all phases: coverage, pass-rush and against the run. Thomas was mostly impactful as a center-fielder and almost seemed like a “square peg in a round hole” as a blitzer.
In contrast, Elliott has already been heavily involved in Don “Wink” Martindale’s blitz scheme and looks like a natural. He was in on a quarterback hit of Wentz earlier in the game off a perimeter blitz. Last week, he registered his first sack of the season. Wink has been using Elliott and Clark interchangeably as blitzers. Moreover, you also see Elliott play the box safety role along with Clark to defend the run, as he has the size and physicality to scrape and square up ball-carriers head on.
Chemistry is so big in team sports. With Thomas in the locker room, it was like mixing two explosive chemical agents in the lab. It was only a matter of time before something erupted — in this case, Thomas and Clark getting into a fist fight during training camp. Ultimately the team had to move in a different direction.
Not only did the move to release Thomas remove one headache, it opened things up for Elliott to play. For this defense, that’s been a very good thing given his skillset to play all over the field.
Sunday was just a glimpse into his potential to be a force in this secondary.
Clamping Down Ertz
It was interesting to see how Martindale chose to defend the Eagles’ All-Pro tight end Zach Ertz, one of the game’s premier pass catchers. Instead of leaning on a dedicated defensive back to check him — like Jimmy Smith — he chose to have his top outside CBs check him instead, treating him like the No.1 WR.
The Eagles made a conscious effort to get Ertz involved, and they motioned him around plenty. Ertz caught four passes on 10 targets for 33 yards and was pretty much held in check. You’ll take those results every time against a player like him.
Granted, the Eagles came into this game shorthanded. Their top receivers Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and rookie Jalen Reagor were all out, plus tight end Dallas Goedert, who has been outstanding playing next to Ertz.
However, shutting down Ertz was still a noteworthy accomplishment for a defense that has struggled against tight ends this season, and may have to defend elite tight ends like Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and Jonnu Smith in the postseason.