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Defense Plays Well in Warm-Up for Chubb

Travis Jones makes a tackle
Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens
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Let’s start with some stats from the Ravens’ Week 6 loss to the New York Giants:

  • Saquon Barkley had just 83 yards on 22 carries (3.8 YPC) with a long of 8
  • Daniel Jones went 19/27 for 173 yards (6.4 YPA)
  • The Ravens recorded 4 sacks
  • The defense had one fumble recovery, though it came as time expired in the first half so it didn’t matter

Yet, the Ravens still allowed 24 points – 14 in the fourth quarter – after holding two better offenses in the Bills and the Bengals to 23 and 17 in the last two weeks.

The Giants consistently had good field position due to a few special teams miscues and Lamar Jackson’s awful, awful interception. They scored two touchdowns on those drives, but just 10 on their other seven – another solid day from Mike Macdonald’s crew up against a formidable coaching mind.

That’s the first thing you notice from New York’s offense: how well-coached they are. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka know exactly what they have on offense – and what they don’t have.

Matt Breida is all over the blitz and the Giants’ receivers get enough depth out of the trips on the left side to open up an easy conversion underneath from Jones to rookie TE Daniel Bellinger. Riding the budding chemistry between Jones and Bellinger on third down is smart, and so is targeting Odafe Oweh in pass coverage. Making sure your players know how to execute your play and counter the other team’s is just good coaching.

That’s what the Ravens were up against on Sunday, but Macdonald and his defense answered the bell with a solid game. Let’s get into some clips!

Malik Harrison has made huge strides this year, especially playing inside and outside linebacker plus occasionally edge-rushing. Here, he ignores the play fake and slides into his drop.

Even with three crossers coming at him – and Jones hits the wrong one – Harrison stays cool and brings down Barkley right away.

Here’s another nice play from Harrison:

See how he mirrors not the ballcarrier, but the gap he’s assigned to guarding. Calais Campbell fights the double-team to hold the edge and force Barkley to cut inside right where Harrison is bursting through the hole.

Broderick Washington also beats his block on the back end of the play to clean things up as part of a solid game from him, as well. He’s played more nose tackle with Michael Pierce out and looks like a future starter on this defensive line.

Here, Washington long-arms the center but doesn’t over-commit into open space where Barkley can force a missed tackle, something the Ravens d-lineman has struggled with in his career so far. Instead, he waits until Barkley has to commit to the hole, easily disengages from his blocker and makes a textbook stop.

I had a few notes on this play, starting with the blitz call. On one side, Madubuike twists to the outside as Chuck Clark comes off the edge, freeing up JPP to loop towards the middle of the pocket.

But Macdonald doesn’t count on his stunt to work – even though it does – and builds in a 1-on-1 opportunity for Campbell on the other side. Both succeed and close Jones’ windows to his checkdowns, so he’s forced to make a risky through through contact. Downfield, Kyle Hamilton looks comfortable getting into his drop, but I’m not sure he plays this quite right. He’s too far behind the go route on the right side to make a play and he waits too long to drive on the deep crosser.

Many fans are expecting Hamilton to step up in Marcus Williams’ absence, but the Ravens are relying more on Geno Stone. Hamilton trusts his athleticism almost too much; he’ll soon learn (maybe from Chuck Clark!) that positioning beats athleticism most of the time.

He’s learning, though! Hamilton leads this communication from the backline to keep track of the motion man, first picking him up and then passing him back off pre-snap. But amidst the shuffle, Hamilton loses track of who he is supposed to pick up and gets caught in traffic.

Luckily, Macdonald sends a nifty blitz with Patrick Queen walking up on the center, who’s clearly expecting the linebacker to blitz. Instead, Queen backs off and both Campbell and Madubuike crash inside from a wide alignment, with the latter occupying three blockers to free up the former for an easy sack.

The Ravens have surrendered 15 touchdowns to opponents on their 22 trips to the red zone, a 68.2% mark that’s seventh-highest in the league. ‘Bend but don’t break’ needs to make its way back into Baltimore’s defensive vocabulary, but it’s clear they’re working out the kinks.

Bynes leads the communication and Jeremiah Attaochu is all over Barkley’s swing route. Chuck Clark times the snap really well, too, but Baltimore desperately needs their defenders to finish their sacks when they get their hands on the quarterback.

Communication does seem to be an emphasis under Macdonald, because it keeps showing up. Here, Campbell leads the d-line shift and Madubuike’s explosive first step beats his blocker to the hole. Barkley is forced to cut back into Campbell – who throws Andrew Thomas aside – and Harrison the homing missile.

Madubuike is having a huge third-year breakout as an impact player in every game so far this season. He’s an elite run defender against even the best competition.

Thomas is having a third-year breakout of his own, but that didn’t matter against Madubuike, who hits him with a nasty spin move to meet Attaochu at the ballcarrier.

Baltimore clearly knew that Barkley would win 1-on-1 encounters with would-be tacklers, so they prioritized controlling the point of attack and herding Barkley towards multiple defenders. That requires more patience on the part of the defensive line; rather than focusing on penetrating the backfield, they have to hold the line to keep their linebackers clean. Here’s a good example:

Pause at 15 seconds and you’ll see the pocket the Ravens defense builds and then collapses around Barkley. Contain, contain, contain.

The final takeaway I had from this game is that cornerback should be Baltimore’s highest defensive priority when considering any pre-trade deadline moves. Marcus Williams’ absence reduces the margin for error in coverage, and neither Brandon Stephens nor Pepe Williams are locked in as CB3.

Pepe definitely has a future in the NFL, but he lost his man too many times in this game. Developing him is important, but the Ravens will have tougher slot matchups in the future that the rookie may not be able to handle.

Queen gets caught out on this play, as Harrison communicates pre-snap and picks up Barkley leaving Queen in no man’s land.

Overall, though, Queen had an excellent game, and Josh Bynes is still chugging along at 33 years old.

Throw in THarrison’s growth and the potential return of Josh Ross, and I like the depth and upside of this inside linebacking group. I’m not complaining about a Roquan Smith or Shaq Thompson acquisition, but William Jackson or C.J. Henderson might be a better investment for the AFC playoffs.

As for tomorrow’s game, the Ravens run defense will be the focal point. Their front seven showed up against a well-coached, rising Giants o-line and one of the NFL’s best running backs. Now they’ll go up against another of the league’s best RBs, against arguably the best-coached and most talented offensive line in the league. It’s going to be a war in the trenches.

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