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Ravens vs Chargers: Defensive Grades

This isn't the way we're used to them playing.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens' defense doesn't look like itself.

This is in part a coaching problem: most of the Ravens' players were drafted for a very different system, particularly the back end. Schematically, our corners are best suited for the old Ryan-Pagano "Organized Chaos" theory of play, where it leans on having a few true phenoms in the lineup (Lewis, Reed, Ngata, Suggs) who demand so much attention from offenses that the other elements can operate as complements, rather than independent pieces. This is not like the Seahawks, where everyone's above average and there are a few stars. And honestly, I'd prefer we get back to that defensive tactic.

Except that we don't have those centerpieces any more. Jimmy Smith, once healthy, has the capacity to do be a true shut-down corner; he's done it before for sections of seasons, usually prior to injury. Brandon Williams is blossoming into a fantastic nose tackle, and other players on the line are starting to play up to that expectation. C.J. Mosley, while he has not played up to his rookie year's stellar standard, has still been above average. So has Daryl Smith. But generational? Certainly not. And that's the problem. Even the team is so accustomed to having Hall-of-Fame caliber players (I count Suggs in this category, though not Ngata) that they're not sure how to play without them.  That's part of the reason for losing our identity--we're trying to compensate for the incredible, and not even receiving the credible in return.

We have some players with the potential to fulfill that. But right now, we're made to operate like the Ravens, and we just don't look like them, nor are we talented enough to.

So Coordinator Dean Pees has a strange issue: the defense is supposed to be the mainstay of the team; it almost always has been. He has a talented cast of characters at some positions, and even a decent depth. This isn't like wide receiver, where there's Steve Smith, Sr., then an immense gap, and everyone else. Even outside linebacker, perhaps the position this might count for the most, there is a decent argument to be made that there's more talent there than a three years ago. McPhee hadn't bloomed yet and Upshaw wasn't the steadying presence he is now.

Even safety has improved. Will Hill is currently rated as one of the better safeties in the league by PFF, and while no one will mistake Kendrick Lewis for Ed Reed, he's certainly an upgrade over 2014 edition Matt Elam.

So what's the problem?

Scheme. The scheme is meant to limit damage, not erase it, or cause damage itself. Pees is still acting like he's coaching the Patriots, where the offense is the clear star and the D simply needs to limit what happens. They're not aggressive enough. I'm not talking about blitzing; rather, the scheme itself (such as corner behavior) is not meant to beat up an opponent. The exception to this behavior was in Pittsburgh, when much more press was played and more exotic switches and stunts went in with the intent of confusing Michael Vick. I'd say that went well. Maybe it wouldn't work against a more cerebral quarterback, but the team won't know until they try.

D-Line: B

The line did alright on Sunday. Williams did his job well, and Jernigan lanced through the Chargers' line and popped around all day. The problem is that other side of the line: it did okay, but with more pressure provided could have allowed Jernigan to have more room to play.

Linebackers: B

Again, it was alright. The middle linebackers weren't all they could have been in coverage, but were still better than average. The outside linebackers really lacked their usual explosion.  Dumervil caused trouble, but not anywhere near what he should be capable of, and Za'Darius Smith continues to underwhelm, even against middling opposition. Courtney Upshaw is not doing badly, but is also not making himself indispensable.

Secondary: C

It was not nearly as ugly as it could have been. Rivers ripped off 300+ yards, and didn't throw an interception.  But there wasn't much of a hope for a shutout here. Smith made some good plays, and eliminated Keenan Allen for much of the game. Will Hill destroyed people. That's good enough for this game.