This is Tale of the Tape: Defense. For Tale of the Tape: Offense, click here
As John Harbaugh said after Sunday night’s thrilling upset of the Kansas City Chiefs, “It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty, but it is us.”
That beautifully sums up the Ravens’ performance against the Chiefs, both on offense and defense. On offense, early interceptions gave way to an elite performance from Lamar Jackson down the stretch, with the Ravens leaning into their run-heavy offensive identity to claim victory.
And on defense, missed tackles and blown coverages eventually gave way to game-changing turnovers.
What’s interesting about Sunday night is that defenses usually have to throw a perfect game to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense. But the Baltimore D was far from perfect, but they still got the job done. Let’s dive into what the Ravens did on defense on Sunday night – the not-so-pretty, and the tear-inducingly beautiful.
Three Quarters of Hanging on for Dear Life
The defense’s performance against the Chiefs went the opposite of how I expected. I thought the Ravens would do a good job limiting the Chiefs for the first two or three quarters, before fatigue, lack of depth and the inevitability of Patrick Mahomes took over the game.
But at first, it seemed like the Ravens defense might not even make it to the end of the game, allowing touchdowns on four of the Chiefs’ first six possessions of the game. Going into halftime down 21-17 seemed like a small miracle, as the Chiefs offense seemed near unstoppable in the first half.
Marlon Humphrey tried to speed turn and undercut the deep out.
It was an out and up!
Aggression didn’t pay off here! He’s going to be kicking himself.
Also an insane throw from Mahomes!!! pic.twitter.com/KZyliQAnZ9
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) September 21, 2021
Mahomes’ first quarter touchdown to Demarcus Robinson was a blown coverage across the board. Marlon Humphrey got caught trying to undercut an out route and was burned deep, but make no mistake: Mahomes was going to get a big gain on this play no matter what.
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2021
In a Cover 3 zone look, both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison bit hard on the Chiefs’ play action, opening up a ton of room for Tyreek Hill in the middle of the field. If Humphrey hadn’t tried to anticipate and jump the out route, Mahomes likely would’ve gashed the Ravens for a big gain elsewhere.
But that play was the exception, not the rule on Sunday night. The Ravens typically play a lot of man and blitz aggressively, but they threw more zone and fewer blitzes at the Chiefs on Sunday night, limiting the Chiefs’ ability to connect on deep passes and instead forcing them to dink and dunk their way down the field. The only problem with that? The Ravens forgot how to tackle, allowing 211 yards after the catch, including two catch-and-run touchdowns.
— Mitchel Summers (@WIBWMitchel) September 20, 2021
The Ravens did send five pass rushers on this play, but for once, the blitz was not to blame for a big play. When Pringle catches the ball, the Ravens appear to have him surrounded, but Pringle slips by Brandon Stephens and Anthony Averett before turning on the jets to reach the end zone. Bad angles and missed tackles galore on this one, which is somewhat surprising given how well the Ravens secondary usually tackles in the open field.
I wouldn’t be worried if it was just one play; after all, things happen and it’s not easy to keep up with the Chiefs’ speedsters at wideout. But five minutes of game time later, and Travis Kelce broke several tackles on a 46-yard touchdown.
TRAVIS KELCE ARE YOU FOR REAL?
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2021
Credit the Chiefs for some excellent downfield blocking, but Tavon Young missed an early chance to end the play, with Stephens and Averett missing more tackles that let Kelce cut back and reach the end zone. When 350-pound DT Justin Ellis is the one to finally ride Kelce into the end zone, something has gone very, very wrong (though Ellis should be commended for his hustle).
I’m certain that Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale are going to emphasize tackling for the rest of the season, because the Ravens may have had a chance to slow down the Chiefs earlier in the game if they could’ve just brought Pringle or Kelce down. Missed tackles are exactly the kind of mistakes that teams can’t afford to make against Mahomes, but the Ravens found a way to recover, by following a simple adage: where there’s a will, there’s Oweh.
Welcome to the League, Rook!
When OLB Odafe Oweh was drafted with the 31st pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, many pointed to his lack of college production (0 sacks in 2020) to explain their lack of confidence in the pick. But almost five months later, Oweh has proved the naysayers wrong, forcing two turnovers against the Chiefs on his way to winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Oweh gave a preview of the havoc he would later wreak, blowing by Chiefs LT Orlando Brown Jr. with a Lamar Jackson-esque shake-and-bake and forcing Mahomes to quickly get rid of the ball.
Odafe Oweh vs Orlando Brown🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/RLMfmaB7Kx
— malik🦦 (@HollywoodJetEra) September 21, 2021
It’s both ironic and deeply satisfying to see Oweh beat Brown, as the Ravens traded Brown to the Chiefs in April, receiving the Chiefs’ first-round pick in return, which Baltimore then used to draft Oweh.
Much of the focus was on Oweh’s forced fumble in the fourth-quarter that set up the Ravens’ game-sealing drive, but even more impressive was his near-sack of Mahomes that forced the 2018 MVP into throwing the first September interception of his career.
Mahomes’ first career September interception…
And it wasn’t pretty 🥴
— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2021
This might be one of the most impressive plays I’ve seen from a Ravens’ rookie (aside from Lamar Jackson, of course) in years.
Oweh starts at the very top of the screen, chipping Kelce as the tight end tried to start his route. He then attacks on a delayed blitz, easily shedding a pretty feeble block attempt from Chiefs center Creed Humphrey. Oweh wraps up Mahomes, who tries to get off a last-ditch throw that lands in the arms of Young. Credit to Young, as well, as Kelce hit him pretty hard to try to prevent the turnover.
This play sticks in my head for a few reasons. First, look at how much ground Oweh covers in just a few seconds. Mahomes is one of the best QBs in the NFL at getting the ball out, but even he wasn’t ready for the ridiculous speed of Oweh. But watch the play again, and focus on the initial three-man rush. This play design is exactly what I highlighted in last week’s TOTT as a disguised, delayed blitz to throw a curveball at Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offensive line. The Ravens’ three best pass rushers (Justin Houston, Calais Campbell and Tyus Bowser) just go to work, collapsing the pocket and forcing Mahomes to step right into Oweh’s path.
Before I get to the decisive fumble, I want to highlight one more play that had a huge impact on the game.
— DeShon Elliott (@OfficialShon_4) September 20, 2021
Anthony Averett has an extremely tough matchup here, covering Tyreek Hill in the slot. You can’t let him get behind you, but if he gets enough separation, he’ll take off after the catch. Averett is known for his speed and reflexes, but he’s been working to improve his anticipation rather than just relying on his physical gifts.
This is about as perfect a rep against Hill as I’ve ever seen; as Cris Collinsworth put it, “Blanketed baby!” Averett reads it perfectly all the way, keeping up with Hill step for step down the field and breaking with him towards the sideline. Averett actually reaches for the ball before Hill does, breaking up the third-down pass and forcing the Chiefs to punt in the fourth quarter. The Ravens would score the go-ahead (and game-winning) score on the very next drive. Clamp clampington indeed.
But the Chiefs did have one more shot to win the game, getting into field goal range with less than two minutes left. Enter Oweh, once again.
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2021
At first glance, it looks like Oweh blindly sticks his arm out and gets lucky, poking the ball out of Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s arms. But alternate angles show how this was not only an exceptional individual play by Oweh, but a fantastic team effort as a whole.
On the Q4 play, the Ravens line up in an over front. McPhee plays behind the ace block (combo by RG & C). Creates just a split second of hesitation for the RG and allows Oweh a free run at CEH. As usual, McPhee doing the unsung work to set up a teammate to make a play. pic.twitter.com/qMPINm1O9m
— michael crawford (@abukari) September 22, 2021
Everyone does their job really well, especially Pernell McPhee, who just loves to eat blocks and clear paths for his teammates. He opens up the gap through which Oweh bursts to make the play. Not great blocking by the Chiefs, either.
— Justin Groc (@justgroc) September 20, 2021
But it’s a moment of individual excellence for Oweh as well, who uses his numerous physical gifts (speed, bend, size, strength, flexibility, reach) to get through the line and beat LG Joe Thuney and strip Edwards-Helaire. He also has the awareness to dive on his own fumble and complete the play for the Ravens.
Also, check out Houston and Campbell plugging the gaps on this play. If Oweh didn’t make the play, one of the two veterans was going to. I love seeing that blend of youth and experience on our defense, as the veteran mentorship has been crucial to the rapid development of the Ravens’ young defenders.
This game reminded me of the 2018 MNF showdown between the Chiefs and the Rams that ended in a 54-51 Rams victory. The Rams defense allowed 51 points on the night, but forced crucial turnovers in big moments to win the game. That’s how you beat the Chiefs. You can’t hold them to 24 points, but you can play your best football when it matters most, and that’s exactly what the Ravens did. After Kelce’s 46-yard romp with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Chiefs went up 35-24. The Ravens defense shut them out for the rest of the game, forcing two turnovers to give the offense good field position to take the lead.
While normally I’d give the Chiefs the edge in a potential playoff rematch, the Ravens weren’t even close to full strength on Sunday night. With the returns of Rashod Bateman, Jimmy Smith, Chris Westry, Ronnie Stanley, Derek Wolfe and Nick Boyle, the Ravens might even be favored against the Chiefs later in the season.
One final note: please never put Malik Harrison one-on-one Travis Kelce.
Travis Kelce with a filthy whip route (probably an option?) on Malik Harrison. Harrison didn’t stand a chance here. pic.twitter.com/M1pi1bmQPh
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) September 22, 2021
No additional commentary needed.