D vs. Colts – Better than You Thought? Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

Tale of the Tape D vs. Colts – Better than You Thought?

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This is Tale of the Tape: Defense. For Tale of the Tape: Offense, click here.

Welcome back to Tale of the Tape, Ravens fans! As the title indicates, I’m less worried about the Ravens’ defense after watching some film than I was immediately after the game against the Colts on Monday night. Baltimore surrendered a season-high 513 total yards to Carson Wentz & Co., with some familiar issues plaguing the defense, and some new ones popping up as well.

The defense actually did an excellent job holding the Colts to just 10 points in the first half, despite a wildly unbalanced time of possession favoring Indianapolis. But they gave up almost 300 yards in the second half, allowing the Colts to extend drives and keep their injury-riddled defense on the field. Baltimore gave up at least 40 yards on all five of the Colts’ second-half possessions, relying on some special teams magic to keep them from giving up more than 30 points for a third time this season.

Let’s dive in!

Rookies Making Instant Impact

That’s right, rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh is once again prominently featured in TotT, this time for his ridiculously fast strip sack of Carson Wentz in the first quarter.

Wentz doesn’t even have time for a full three-step drop before Oweh is on him, having left Colts left tackle Eric Fisher in the dust from the snap. Not only does Oweh do a fantastic job of hitting Wentz on his blind side, he also has the wherewithal to strip the ball, halting an Indianapolis drive deep in Baltimore territory. But the broadcast clip doesn’t do justice to how fast Oweh was moving on this play.

 

In slow motion, you can see that Oweh is the first player on the field to move after the ball is snapped, getting wide of Fisher before he even takes one step back. That’s crazy speed.

Oweh also shows off some technique he’s probably been working on with Justin Houston, using his left arm to shield himself from Fisher’s futile attempt to slow him down.

It took Oweh less than half a second to get past the line of scrimmage, leading to the 3rd-fastest sack in the NFL this season.

But I’m even more excited about how he identified the motion of running back Nyheim Hines and used it to perfectly anticipate the snap. That combination of speed and smarts is scary, for opposing offensive linemen at least. The Ravens, and especially defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, love it!

Brandon Stephens, a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, had a phenomenal game starting at safety in place of the injured DeShon Elliott. He had 12 total tackles on Monday night, several of them in the open field, consistently stepping up against the run to end plays.

I honestly don’t have much more to add that Brian Baldinger doesn’t cover in his commentary. Stephens has done an amazing job converting from cornerback in college into a roving safety in the NFL, which is even more impressive when you remember that he started college as a running back! His tackling has improved tremendously this season, to the point where he’s one of the team’s most reliable tacklers right now. The SMU product’s speed and vision also allow him to cover a huge swath of the field against the run and the pass. I think Stephens has a bright future in purple & black ahead of him.

Tavon Young is BACK

Slot cornerback Tavon Young showed up in a big way on Monday night, logging a sack and three tackles for loss as well as a pass deflection. Sure, he committed a costly penalty he shouldn’t have, even though he was provoked, but I’m confident he’ll learn his lesson and not make the same mistake again. He reminded Baltimore why he’s such a big part of their defense, and his role is sure to grow as the season goes on.

Let’s start with his second-quarter sack, blindsiding Wentz from the slot.

We know Young is fast, but he demonstrated two of his most important qualities on this play, as well as several others. First, look at the path he takes to Wentz. He stays away from Justin Houston and his blocker to maximize his speed, and he flies at Wentz with his arms wide, wrapping up the quarterback and taking him down.

Young is already sliding to his right in his correct anticipation of the jet sweep, but he still has to deploy some tricky footwork to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Again, he takes an excellent angle to the ballcarrier and does a good job of putting enough behind his tackle to finish the play.

Oh yeah, he’s also a lockdown slot cornerback too! The Colts used RPOs to a lot of success against the Ravens, but Young was all over this one, using his speed and hands to break up the pass. See how Young is fully committed to the play, going horizontal to make sure he latches onto the receiver? That’s the kind of commitment that every Raven defender needs to tackle with, every play. Go ahead and contrast that with the effort from Justin Houston and Patrick Queen on this play.

Not great, linebackers. Not great.

Don’t Overcommit!

Speaking of commitment, too much can be a bad thing, especially with the already-aggressive Ravens’ defense. As I’ve mentioned before, screens can be deadly against a blitz-happy defense, especially one that can’t figure out how to tackle at the moment. The Colts went after this weakness early.

Take a look at how many Ravens are unable to recognize the screen as it develops, ending up way behind Jonathan Taylor.

It wasn’t even like Taylor broke a bunch of tackles on this play; the Ravens were just caught out of position and didn’t react quickly enough.

But screens aren’t the Ravens’ kryptonite, either. Campbell does a great job of recognizing this screen and forcing Wentz to throw it at his receiver’s feet for an incompletion. Patrick Queen, despite some struggles this season, is also all over this one. He’s ready to defend the run but doesn’t overcommit to the play action, and he surges to the ball once he diagnoses the screen. Queen does still need to work on shedding blocks, though.

Wherefore Art Thou, Anthony Averett

Cornerback Anthony Averett was spectacular for the Ravens in their first four games, filling in for Marcus Peters even better than anyone expected. Entering Week 5, he had allowed the lowest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks when targeted. That wasn’t the case against Wentz and the Colts’ receivers.

Averett just about single-handedly gave up the Colts’ touchdown at the beginning of the second half, allowing 31 and 42 yards on consecutive plays, the latter of which was a touchdown.

Here’s the first.

Averett struggled on the left sideline all night, frequently giving up the outside leverage on out routes and comebacks. Look how turned around he gets trying to maintain contact with Zach Pascal on this play, not only allowing a completion for a first down, but an extra 15 yards after the catch since he was so behind the ball.

Next play, he gives up a touchdown to Michael Pittman while also committing a pass interference penalty. I have no issue with committing the penalty in this circumstance; it’s always better to give up the yards than a touchdown. But if you’re going to commit pass interference, you have to make sure the receiver isn’t able to score on the play. Otherwise, you’ve committed a penalty for nothing!

Averett makes that mistake here, making contact with Pittman without actually disrupting the catch in any significant way. It’s a nice grab by Pittman, but Averett had no business committing such a soft penalty.

I’m confident that Averett will rebound, however. Opponents may see him as a weakness and target him with similar route combinations, but Averett will be watching the same film and spending time in practice to make sure he doesn’t get embarrassed again.

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About Nikhil Mehta

Nikhil Mehta is a young writer from Ellicott City, Maryland who grew up on Ray Lewis’s inspirational quotes, Ed Reed’s interceptions, and Joe Flacco’s elite QB play. While his professional experience in journalism is centered around politics and local magazine writing, his passion for the Ravens inspires him to continually jot down his thoughts on the team. He contributed a few op-eds for RSR during the 2020 season before joining the site as a writer leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft. He loves scouting draft prospects and defending Lamar Jackson from the haters on Twitter at @nmehtaUR2022. More from Nikhil Mehta
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