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Ravens Roundtable: Defensive MVP of the First Quarter

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

At 3-1 and in control of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens are off to a strong start. Baltimore Beatdown staff’s Defensive MVPs through the first four games of the 2023 season:

OLB Jadeveon Clowney

As the face of the defense, Roquan Smith is the natural choice. But the majority of the inside linebacker’s production could likely be replaced by the backups at his position group. The same cannot be said for Clowney, who has been the only constant at outside linebacker through the first quarter of the season. His counting stats - eight solo tackles, four for a loss, five quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks and one pass defensed - do not reflect the large impact he has made for the Ravens. Jadeveon is currently on pace for 80 quarterback pressures this season, which would be the most for any Raven since at least 2006. Considering the injury decimated state of Baltimore’s outside linebacker corps, Clowney’s dependability (he's played 62% of defensive snaps at a demanding position) and consistent disruption have been tremendously valuable.

-Vasilis Lericos

CB Brandon Stephens

The third-year defensive back has been a pleasant surprise and seems to have finally found a home at his best position. Stephens has been lights out in place of All-Pro starter Marlon Humphrey through the first four games, playing 100 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps and leading the effort that shut down two of the league’s top wideouts. In a Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, he helped keep two-time Pro Bowler Ja’Marr Chase in check for just five catches on eight targets and a measly 31 receiving yards. This past Sunday in a win over the Cleveland Browns, the only catch he allowed four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper to reel in was for 16 yards and it didn’t even come until the third quarter. Stephens is allowing a career-low 8.8 yards per completion. 6.2 yards per target, and opposing passer rating of 71.1. He has yet to give up a touchdown and regularly makes clutch plays on the ball including his first career interception in Week 4.

- Joshua Reed

ILB Roquan Smith

It was harder to choose an MVP for the defense than it was for the offense as so many players are doing their jobs at high levels. One player stands above the rest though, and that is inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Smith’s impact is felt far beyond just his own individual performance on the field every week. Trading for Smith late last season is looking like one of the best trades in franchise history already. Smith sets the tone and brings an edge week in and week out that has been missing on defense for the Ravens for a while now. It is hard to quantify just how valuable his leadership traits are for this team.

-Dustin Cox

The LB duo

The defense has faced massive setbacks. Star corner Marlon Humphrey hasn’t a played a game yet. Ball-hawking free safety Marcus Williams got hurt Week 1. The defensive backs have been an endless rotation of injuries. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser has been on the NFI list, Odafe Oweh was hurt Week 2 and David Ojabo could be done for the year. In spite of all that, the defense has yet to look bad all year. The line has stepped up and the secondary has yet to collapse. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deserves a lot of credit. But the true MVPs have been Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen. Smith and Queen have been of immense value. Smith has been PFFs #1 ranked inside backer so far, Queen has been all over the backfield and both are top 15 in tackles. With them, Macdonald has been capable of running his two-high scheme, funneling everything to the middle for his play finishers. They’ve been elite in coverage and the tone setters for this defense.

- Zach Canter

OLB Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney has proven to be an extremely valuable addition late in training camp. The veteran edge rusher has taken on a larger-than-expected role as the team’s mainstay at the position. The Ravens entered the season banking on breakout campaigns from Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo. Neither have been on the field for more than one full game. Clowney’s box score statistics don’t scream “great season” but he’s made a consistent impact as a pass rusher and run defender. He’s played 181 snaps on defense (62%) and has six pressures and five quarterback hits. His sack total of just 1.5 could be at least a few higher if he were able to finish plays, but his disruptiveness nonetheless has been paramount for the Ravens.

— Frank Platko