It’s an understatement to say the Ravens fielded an unexpected defensive lineup toward the end of their wild win in Pittsburgh.
Shockingly unexpected is more like it. It was “the Defensive Lineup No One (Not Even the Coaches) Possibly Could Have Envisioned a Week Earlier.” It included:
+ Josh Bynes, an inside linebacker who hadn’t suited up for an NFL game since last November.
+ Maurice Canady, a cornerback who didn’t make the Ravens’ 53-man roster out of training camp.
+ Chuck Clark, a safety who has made three starts in three years in Baltimore.
+ Pernell McPhee, a linebacker who has already played more snaps for the Ravens this season (209) than he did all last season (203) for the Washington Redskins.
They were on the field together late in Sunday’s game because a week of personnel moves, lineup alterations and injuries totally jumbled the Ravens’ defensive status quo, leaving a patchwork unit in charge of trying to help deliver a crucial win.
It all worked out, as you know. A defensive player the Ravens had counted on this year, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, forced a fumble in overtime and scooped it up, setting up a game-winning field goal.
But I don’t believe the happy ending means the Ravens have settled on their new-and-different defensive blueprint for 2019.
My guess is there could be more changes coming as the Ravens continue trying to develop a suitable defense for a playoff run.
Last week’s flurry of moves was a byproduct of them allowing 500-plus yards in back-to-back games. The goal was to stabilize the situation, calm the turbulent waters to some degree, and that goal was achieved. The Steelers moved the chains and nearly won, but they reached the end zone on just two of 12 possessions.
None of the Ravens’ moves was bolder – or more indicative of the extent of their concern – than bringing in a player (Bynes) who’d been out of a job all season and starting him right away at C.J. Mosley’s former spot.
But the move worked. Bynes played most of the game, contributed five tackles and an interception, and his presence enabled Peanut Onwuasor to slide back to weakside linebacker, where he played better.
Even though Bynes just joined the team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the green-dot play-calling helmet now that safety Tony Jefferson is out for the season.
Giving Canady a shot at outside cornerback was another bold move, as he has always been viewed more as depth than a front-line player. But he held up well despite being targeted all day.
“He really stepped up,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
Meanwhile, Clark was on the field late because Jefferson had gone down, and McPhee was there because he is more consistent than anyone at his position at generating pressure and holding the edge.
The Ravens didn’t expect McPhee to have to carry such a load, but here we are, and that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue to make moves to bolster the defense. The reality is Pittsburgh quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges gave the defense fits to some degree. Although the Ravens survived, they surely weren’t pleased with some of what unfolded.
The pass rush, or absence of it, was especially alarming. Baltimore is tied for No. 23 in the league in sacks through five games. Harbaugh said Monday that the unit needs to generate more pressures and sacks, but where will that come from?
The answer might not even be on the roster yet. Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta is establishing an aggressive footprint in his first year, making it clear he is unafraid to take chances. With a lively trading deadline season looming, I’m sure he’ll be kicking tires.
Why not? The Ravens have sole possession of first place in the AFC North. With the Steelers at 1-4 and the Cincinnati Bengals at 0-5, the division could be short on bona fide contenders this year.
An opportunity exists, and I get the sense the Ravens are willing to go to some lengths to make the most of it.