Ravens film study: The new potential of a revamped defense, and unexpected help in the ground game

After spending the first half of the season scrambling for solutions, the Ravens’ defense was nothing if not consistent Sunday. Consistent in its production. Consistent in its execution. And, until an injury intervened, consistent in its personnel.

In holding the scuffling Carolina Panthers to 203 total yards and forcing three turnovers in a 13-3 win, the Ravens seized on a newfound (and perhaps fleeting) stability in their back end. Their two star inside linebackers never left the field. And their slot defender rotation actually started as just a one-man show.

Until the Ravens traded for All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith ahead of their Week 9 game, until rookie safety Kyle Hamilton earned more regular nickel back duties, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s personnel deployments had been more situational. The Ravens had a core of reliable starters up front; it was some of the pieces behind them that needed to be figured out.

With inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Malik Harrison’s limitations on obvious passing downs, the Ravens had leaned heavily into dime personnel looks (six defensive backs), surrounding inside linebacker Patrick Queen with more capable partners in coverage.

And with cornerback Kyle Fuller’s season-ending Week 1 knee injury compounded by the early-season struggles of the Ravens’ young defensive backs, playing time fluctuated. Rookie Damarion “Pepe” Williams has featured prominently in the slot. So has Brandon Stephens. Starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey has bounced between the inside and outside to accommodate the Ravens’ lineups and matchups.

On Sunday, though, there were far fewer moving pieces — and far fewer problems. At inside linebacker, Queen and Smith, finally up to speed on the Ravens’ schemes, played every defensive snap. They helped limit the Panthers to 36 yards rushing (2.1 per carry) and helped juice the Ravens’ upgraded front (four sacks and seven quarterback hits) with their speed and pass-rushing ability.

In the secondary, when the Ravens needed a fifth defensive back, they at first called exclusively on rookie safety Kyle Hamilton. Until the first-round pick suffered an apparently minor knee injury in the third quarter, no other defensive back besides cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Humphrey and safeties Geno Stone and Chuck Clark played a single defensive snap.

Hamilton finished with four tackles, including one for loss, and a quarterback hit in just 21 snaps Sunday. His physicality and instincts helped shore up problem areas for the defense, blowing up blocks on wide receiver screens and making quick, smart reads as a run defender. Hamilton was also sticky in man-to-man coverage and sound when dropping into zone coverage.

“Defensively, I feel good about the steady progress,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “I feel like we had a vision. The players understood the vision. It’s built around the talent that we have, and what we had, and we haven’t really changed course; we’ve stayed on course, and we’ve just tried to improve. So, the guys have done that. It’s starting to show up in a real good way the last month or …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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