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Ravens News 10/19: Modern defense, Zeus Jr. ready to start and more

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

How to Remake NFL Defenses? The Ravens Have a Blueprint - Andy Benoit

For a blueprint on how, look no further than the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off an 11-sack performance at Tennessee and rank first in points and yards allowed. When Marcus Mariota approached the line of scrimmage last Sunday, he’d see Ravens defenders roaming around, defensive backs and linebackers in pass rush positions or one side of the formation overloaded with extra defenders. Rarely did Mariota see defenders in traditional set positions; it was mostly undefined, amoeba looks.

Many of these looks involved Baltimore’s safeties—of which, by the way, there were three: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson and Anthony Levine, who often subbed in for a linebacker. Having three safeties gave the Ravens defense more speed and coverage versatility.

Defensive coaches don’t like three-safety packages and amoeba fronts on early downs because it can leave a defense unsound against the run. This is where thinking must evolve. For decades, coaches were taught that sturdy defense began with stopping the run. But once upon time, society believed that efficient transportation began with having a healthy horse. Things change. If the NFL really is a passing league—which everyone agrees it is—your defense must begin with stopping the pass.

Dime safety Anthony Levine has played on 31-percent of defensive snaps, backup safety Chuck Clark on 17-percent and slot corner Tavon Young on 73-percent of defensive snaps this season. For reference, the Ravens lined up in base defense on 30-percent of plays, nickel on 40-percent and dime on 28-percent of plays in 2017.

4 stats to know as Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints prepare to square off in Week 7 - Aaron Kasinitz

Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads the league in passer rating (122.3); the Ravens’ defense has held opponents to the lowest passer rating in the NFL (73.1)

Why it matters Sunday

The NFL world should have its eyes on Baltimore on Sunday, because this matchup of strengths could dictate the outcome of a Week 7 game and provide hints at whether one of these teams is a strong championship contender. If the Ravens’ pass defense remains superb against Brees, it’d be safe to label Baltimore as a serious threat in the AFC. Conversely, if the Saints tear through the Ravens’ defense (and if Brees can get his first win against Baltimore, the only team he hasn’t beaten), they’ll prove they can pile up the points against anybody.

In four career games against the Ravens, Brees has thrown nine touchdowns compared to eight interceptions and has an 84.5 passer rating.

Top 10 contract pushes: Melvin Gordon’s makin’ paper - Chris Wessling

4) Za’Darius Smith, outside linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

Smith has been perhaps the most disruptive force on a front seven that includes potential Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs and three-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley. Even before his three-sack performance in Baltimore’s beatdown of Tennessee, the 2015 fourth-round pick was emerging as a force to be reckoned with as a rotational rusher behind Suggs and starter Matt Judon. Through six weeks, he has more combined sacks, hits and hurries than perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller, who opened the season with a three-sack performance of his own. It will be interesting to see if GM-in-waiting Eric DeCosta allows Smith to reach the open market in March.

5) C.J. Mosley, middle linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

Speaking of Baltimore’s contract conundrums, DeCosta will have little choice but to open the checkbook for Mosley, a defensive leader touted by none other than Ray Lewis as the league’s best middle linebacker. Detractors of Don “Wink” Martindale’s shutdown defense may circle the 34 points surrendered in a Thursday night loss to Cincinnati back in Week 2. It’s no coincidence, however, that the defense collapsed after its play-caller went down with a severe bone bruise on the Bengals’ opening possession. Mosley is the glue that holds the unit together, and he’s going to get compensated accordingly in 2019.

Wessling surprisingly does not mention John Brown. ‘Smoke’ is competing with Golden Tate and Devin Funchess to become the most coveted receiver on the market next March. The list of impending unrestricted wide receivers is extremely underwhelming.

Bradley Bozeman, Orlando Brown Jr. Preparing to Start If Alex Lewis Can’t - Clifton Brown

Bozeman played the final 17 snaps at left guard Sunday after Lewis suffered a pinched nerve against the Tennessee Titans. Brown played just five snaps Sunday against the Titans, mostly as an extra blocker in jumbo formations.

However, Brown is a promising talent who was drafted higher (third round) than Bozeman (sixth round).

Brown competed with Hurst for the starting right tackle job during training camp and preseason, and nobody has questioned Brown’s talent.

He’s been a reliable practice player, working diligently to improve, patiently waiting his turn. Brown started every preseason game at right tackle when Hurst was injured, but Hurst stepped in once the regular season began.

“I wouldn’t say it has been tough waiting, because I’ve been at practice every day working hard to get better,” Brown said. “I’ve gotten some reps, gotten a chance to help my teammates, and if I get an opportunity to do more of that, I have confidence I’ll be ready.”

Alex Lewis is considered doubtful to play in Week 7. Inserting Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle and kicking James Hurst inside to left guard could potentially upgrade two positions on Baltimore’s inconsistent line.