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Defense Defuses Chargers

DeShon Elliott
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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This is Tale of the Tape: Defense. For Tale of the Tape: Offense, click here.

After an MVP-worthy performance by Lamar Jackson against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, the Baltimore Ravens’ defense grabbed the spotlight with both hands by holding Justin Herbert and the soaring L.A. offense to just six points on Sunday.

It’s the most impressive performance from the Ravens’ defense all season, especially coming on the heels of surrendering 513 total yards to the Colts. The Chargers’ offensive statistics speak for themselves: 6 points, 208 total yards (182 passing and just 26 rushing), 3-of-12 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth down.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was in his bag, throwing a variety of new looks at the Chargers’ young quarterback. Justin Herbert said the Ravens used “a lot of looks that we didn’t see on film and stuff they constructed for us. They did a great job at disguising their looks; bringing pressure from one way and hiding from another.”

With that speech to start the game, I can see why the Ravens’ D came out swinging on Sunday. Let’s dive into some clips to see how the Ravens stifled the Chargers’ offense.

Protecting Vulnerabilities

Has Wink been reading my articles? I’ve been writing about the threat that screens and run-pass options (RPOs) pose to Baltimore’s aggressive defense for a few weeks now, so it was gratifying to see the Ravens defend them so well against the Chargers.

The Ravens snuffed out several screens on Sunday, including this one in the first quarter.

Chuck Clark set the tone for the game on this play, ending the Chargers’ game-opening drive with a brilliant play here. He’s assigned to blitz on this play, but anticipates the play before it even happens to bat down the screen. The replay shows how Clark’s first two steps after the snap set him on the perfect path to intercept the arc of Herbert’s throw. It’s just fantastic stuff, again, from Clark, and I still can’t say enough about how great (and underrated league-wide) of a player he is.

Patrick Queen beat Herbert to every one of his reads on this play, shutting down the RPO almost single-handedly. Fantastic recognition and spatial awareness by Queen, who played exceptionally well when paired with veteran Josh Bynes, a welcome return in the Ravens’ linebacker corps.

The ILBs Are Back, Baby!

Speaking of Bynes and Queen, the Ravens’ inside linebackers had a huge game on Sunday, guarding the middle of the field against the pass and surging to make plays against the run.

I’ve talked about my concerns with Queen, which are less about his tackling and more about his confidence in his reads. Enter Bynes, a veteran with an extremely high football I.Q.

Watch how Bynes takes off right from the snap. He’s watched enough film to recognize this play and know his job in defending it, and immediately takes off to meet the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. It’s a good tackle too; Bynes sees Anthony Averett go low and wraps his own arm around Austin Ekeler’s ribs to make the stop. That’s confidence in your read and your tackle.

Now watch Queen do it.

The Chargers’ offensive line blocked well upfront here here, but Queen sheds a blocker and flies to the point of attack, taking Ekeler down with a solid, physical tackle. He doesn’t hesitate, nor does he over pursue, instead shuffling parallel to the line of scrimmage with his eyes on the ballcarrier. It’s nice to see a powerful tackle out of Queen, who didn’t miss a single one against the Chargers. Combine that play with his RPO defense earlier, and it’s easy to see the tantalizingly-high potential of Queen in the Ravens’ defense for years to come.

(Re-)Enter Elliot

DeShon Elliott was sorely missed against the Colts, and he returned from injury in spectacular fashion on Sunday, harassing Herbert on blitzes and in coverage.

Wink wasted no time in sending Elliott on blitzes, and he got home on this play to end the Chargers’ second drive of the game. This is probably one of the disguised looks that threw Herbert for a loop. Just look at the line of scrimmage. From left to right, that’s Justin Houston, Odafe Oweh, Chris Board, Brandon Stephens, Calais Campbell, Tyus Bowser, DeShon Elliott, and Anthony Averett. That’s eight guys, as many as seven and as few as three of whom could actually blitz! Like I said, Wink was in his bag.

Elliott comes on a similar blitz on this play, and Herbert just barely avoids the sack. More on Marlon Humphrey, who was sticky all game including that play, later. The second play from that clip is Elliott’s first career interception.

Elliott undercutting the throw to even have a chance at this pick is especially impressive considering Herbert’s “strawberry-through-a-battleship” arm, but Elliott somehow extended to snag the ball and powered through contact to secure the interception.

44 on 4th Down

Marlon Humphrey came into this season with Defensive Player of the Year expectations, and while he hasn’t played poorly, he also isn’t quite playing at the level he did in 2019 and 2020.

But Humphrey reminded everyone that he’s still one of the NFL’s premier lockdown corners.

In a baffling move, Herbert targeted Humphrey on two fourth downs, both of which Humphrey shut down.

This is textbook coverage on a fourth-and-short situation. Williams tries to use his long arms to break from Humphrey, but the savvy corner maintains contact and wraps up his man just as the ball arrives to end the Chargers’ drive.

It’s more of the same in the second play in this clip, with the Ravens sending extra blitzers to force an errant throw from Herbert.

Wrapping It Up (Again)

The Ravens flowed to the ball carrier really well against the Chargers and made strong, solid tackles in their best tackling display of the season. Plays were made across the board, including on special teams, which is again emerging as a strength in Baltimore. Rookie Brandon Stephens saw fewer defensive snaps due to Elliott’s return, but here he is coming down the field untouched to make a bone-crunching tackle on the returner.

I think Eric DeCosta got a future stud in Stephens in the third round this year. But the rest of the coverage team played well, controlling field position by limiting the Chargers to just 16 yards per return.

And of course, we can’t forget the eater of worlds and destroyer of offensive lines himself, Calais Campbell. For your viewing pleasure:

All that, and it was a day to remember for the Ravens’ defense. Luckily, they took a picture!

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