In the wake of the Baltimore Ravens miserable 44-7 loss to the Jaguars in London, there is plenty of blame to go around. The team’s offense was abysmal in their first game without stalwart lineman Marshal Yanda. Yet in fairness, their performance was somewhat expected considering the Ravens lack of advantageous matchups against a vastly underrated Jacksonville defense. Allowing 44 points, 410 net yards, six yards per play and 24 first downs to a Blake Bortles led offense was not.
Generating five takeaways per game was never going to be sustainable and the Ravens offense played a large part in creating the lopsided score by coughing up three turnovers of their own. Still, the defense can play much better, especially against an offensively deficient team such as the Jaguars. Even without defensive tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Brent Urban.
Rookie power rusher Leonard Fournette was thought to be Jacksonville’s primary offensive weapon but the defensive line rotation of Michael Pierce, Carl Davis and Willie Henry helped hold him to less than 3.5 yards per carry. That still was not enough to slow down their offense. The Ravens allowed 7.4 yards per play on passing attempts and were generally out of sorts in coverage.
Coordinator Dean Pees did his playmakers no favors with his playcalling. His reliance on zone coverage in the middle of the field left receivers open underneath far too often. He was reluctant to scheme pressure and the Ravens failed to record a single sack in Week 3.
The most egregious example of Pees’ passive playcalling costing the Ravens occurred five minutes before halftime. Jacksonville was up 13-0 and drove the ball to the Ravens five yard line. On third and goal, Pees dropped eight men into coverage, including nose guard Michael Pierce. Bortles had ample time to survey the end zone from a clean pocket, allowing him to find Allen Hurns between the zones.
Throughout his six year tenure as defensive coordinator, Dean has been rightfully criticized for his ‘bend don’t break’ scheme. The list of journeymen quarterbacks who have excelled against the once feared Ravens defense since 2012 is long and varied. Occasionally, due to certain game scripts and matchups, a passive defense has given Baltimore their best chance to win. That is definitely not the case this season.
The Ravens simply do not have the horses on offense to win high scoring shootouts. Conversely, the front office has constructed a defense that is fully capable of dominance. Setting the tone with an attacking defense from the first drive to the last is absolutely critical for the 2017 team.
Jimmy Smith is playing at an All-Pro level thus far. Marlon Humphrey has displayed excellent shadow coverage in limited opportunities. Brandon Carr has been beaten a couple times, but has been opportunistic and steady overall. With physical corners such as this trio, bump-and-run should be the base coverage.
By using more press man coverage, the pass rush becomes more effective organically. Increased usage of stunts and overload blitzes should also be part of the weekly gameplan. In obvious passing situations, employing 4-2-5 look with C.J. Mosley and Tony Jefferson at linebacker and all three aforementioned corners on the field could make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
The Ravens will face-off against two potent offenses in Pittsburgh and Oakland over the next two weeks. Passive defense will not suffice against their dynamic offensive weaponry. Pees should simplify his coverage schemes and force their players to consistently beat man coverage against his talented cornerbacks and linebackers. Then unleash the pass rush and hunt the quarterback.
We have known since early stages of the offseason that 2017 would be all about defense in Baltimore. The team as presently constructed is uncomfortable when playing from behind and nearly incapable of making up large deficits against quality opponents. A relentless, hyper aggressive defense is the only way the Ravens can reach their goals this year.