When the Ravens face the New England Patriots on "Sunday Night Football" this weekend, millions of fans around the country will tune in hoping to see Lamar Jackson perform some magic.
It's understandable. Jackson is the reigning league MVP and a reliable producer of electric, game-winning plays. The Ravens are 25-5 with him as their quarterback.
But while many of those fans are expecting what essentially is a new, Jackson-centric version of the Ravens, they'll discover the 2020 Ravens actually currently resemble the franchise's classic contenders from years past.
The defense is the heart of the team.
The point is irrefutable now, in the aftermath of Sunday's win in Indianapolis. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit allowed an early touchdown and then pretty much squashed an offense piloted by a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The game remained tense while Jackson and the offense sputtered through the first half, but once they got going, the Ravens pulled away and won easily.
The Colts' speedy defense looked stronger early, but it was the Ravens' defense that never flinched and ultimately prevailed. After keeping the score close when the going was tough, the defense didn't allow a point after halftime.
And remember, that was with the shorthanded unit lacking three starters, including All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Pro Bowl tackle Calais Campbell; and also with a batch of players having missed practice all week due to COVID-19 protocols.
None of that mattered in the end as the defense continued to establish itself as a worthy example of the Ravens' fine tradition on that side of the ball.
Halfway through the 2020 season, no NFL defense has allowed fewer points, recovered more fumbles or scored more touchdowns.
It might not rank with the total-shutdown defenses of Ray Lewis' heyday; the Ravens are No. 8 in rushing defense and No. 10 in passing defense, so the ball does move. And yes, there've been several lapses.
But honestly, offenses are faster now and less predictable than in Lewis' heyday, and that alters what we should expect from a top defense. Complete shutdowns are rare.
Today's game is about speed and matchups, which prompts different questions for a defense. Are you fast enough? Can you match up everywhere? Can you generate pressure? Do your playmakers deliver?
The Ravens are checking those boxes in 2020. Only five other teams have more sacks and quarterback pressures. Only four have forced more turnovers. Only five are allowing fewer yards per play on average.
While Jackson and the offense continue to seek the consistency and performance level that scorched the NFL in 2019, the defense is playing well enough to win every week.
No matter what the offense does, as long it avoids turnovers, the Ravens are going to be in the game – a nice thing to know as the opening kickoff sails through the air.
When you add superior special teams play to the mix that has produced a 6-2 record, you've really got a throwback Ravens team.
And to be clear, the Ravens just set an all-time NFL record by scoring at least 20 points in 31 straight games, so it's not as if the offense is seriously hurting. Jackson and his unit are just trying to achieve better consistency and realize their potential.
The rest of the AFC hopes it doesn't happen.
The rise of the 2020 defense is no accident. The front office prioritized that side of the ball during the offseason. It retained Matthew Judon with the franchise tag, traded for Campbell, signed Derek Wolfe, re-signed Jimmy Smith and drafted Patrick Queen. Then it traded for Yannick Ngakoue last month.
That's a lot of moves and money invested in bolstering a unit that experienced some good times in 2019 but also exhibited enough fraying to warrant the upgrade.
The foundation of a top defense was already in place with an aggressive coordinator whom the players love; a savvy green-dot-helmet play-caller in Chuck Clark; and a prevailing mindset of playing hard and prioritizing the greater good.
Now, with more talent on hand, the 2020 defense is truly a pleasure to watch. Deep. Relentless. Opportunistic.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?