When the Carolina Panthers threatened to take an early lead Saturday night, DeShon Elliott wasn't having it.
On third-and-goal from the 1, Elliott and linebacker Patrick Queen attacked the line of scrimmage and stoned running back Chuba Hubbard for no gain. Then on fourth-and-goal, Elliott got a terrific jump on the snap, shed a blocker, and knifed into the backfield to drop Hubbard for a 2-yard loss.
That goal-line stand set the tone for Baltimore's defense during its 20-3 victory, the team's record-tying 19th straight preseason win. Nobody on the Ravens' defense was surprised to see Elliott make back-to-back standout plays. It has been clear since the start of training game that Elliott is more decisive this season, putting himself in position to make plays.
"The goal-line stand was big," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "DeShon and all of those guys did a great job there. We had another sudden-change stop, so I was proud of our defense for that."
Elliott is entering his second year as a starter playing next to safety Chuck Clark, who is one of the team's most respected and knowledgeable players. Clark has been a mentor to Elliott, and they are ascending players who believe they can become one of the top safety combinations in the league.
"Yes, definitely, that's how we both feel," Clark said. "We've got so much more to do, so much more to climb, and I think it just starts with our relationship off of the field – just bonding and clicking and vibing together – and then it carries over to the field, and we hold each other to a standard that we want to be the best duo in the league."
Part of it is making more splash plays. Clark had one interception and Elliott, who was a ball hawk in college, had zero. They each forced two fumbles.
Clark almost caused a turnover Saturday, forcing Hubbard to fumble after making a direct hit. The Panthers recovered the football, but Clark's tackle forced Carolina to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt that was missed by Joey Slye.
Hubbard is not going to forget being hit by either Elliott or Clark after Saturday's game, two safeties who made their presence felt early and often. That's exactly what they plan to do once the regular season begins. Clark and Elliott entered the league as sixth-round picks just a year apart, and they bonded as two young players who believed they had something to prove.
They're playing with an edge, and they look ready to have their best season. Harbaugh definitely likes what he sees.
"They've really taken it to another level," Harbaugh said. "I think if you watch them just moving-around wise, they're both moving really well, which is credit to them, and the work they've put in. [It's] also credit to the fact that they really understand the defense well. They flow within the construction of the defense. They understand where to be. They understand the spacing. They understand the landmarks.
"They understand how to make one thing look like something else and do it in a really natural way that is really hard for the quarterback to identify. I'm proud of them. I think they're playing really good football."