Is Ravens Defense Good Enough? And in 2018, Does it Even Matter?
There's been a lot of concern about Baltimore's defense during this three-game losing streak, and with good reason. Over this run, the Ravens have forced just one turnover and registered two sacks, all while allowing an average of just under 28 points per game. Simply put, the unit hasn't been good enough.
Though the defense hasn't gotten great results recently, Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness offered a different perspective.
"[New Orleans is] averaging over 36 points per game (not including Baltimore game) and Baltimore held them to 24. [Pittsburgh is] averaging over 31 points per game (not including two games against Baltimore) and Baltimore held them to 14 and 23," McGuinness wrote. "It's not that the Ravens defense isn't good enough. It's that in 2018 it doesn't matter as much."
Indeed, 2018 has been the year of explosive offenses, and the Ravens have faced their fair share recently in New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh. And as McGuinness pointed out, against New Orleans and Pittsburgh, the Ravens managed to keep those offenses somewhat in check by their high standards.
The question is this though: does it matter if the Ravens are able to keep these explosive offenses somewhat in check? McGuinness clearly doesn't think so, but his reasoning isn't based entirely on the defense.
Yes, a big part in answering this question is Baltimore's offense has averaged just 20 points during this losing streak. With how games are being officiated, it has certainly made it easier for a team to win based around offense. As The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it, "Sunday's games were full of stellar performances from offenses that couldn't be denied, and we should be seeing most of those units come playoff time."
Averaging 20 points per game simply isn't close to enough with how explosive offenses can be in the NFL in this era. The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi even referred to Baltimore's offense as a "significant obstacle" to its chances of making the postseason.
The Ravens defense is still No. 1 in the NFL in average yards allowed per game (305), which is a pretty good metric for determining how a defense is doing. However, four of the top five defenses in that category - Baltimore, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Dallas – would not make the playoffs if the season were to end right now.
On the flip side, three of the top five offenses in the NFL in terms of yards gained per game – Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City and Pittsburgh – would all make the playoffs.
"The way the rules have been set up, it's a scoring league," former NFL quarterback Trent Green and CBS analyst, said on Glenn Clark Radio. "That's the way the league's set up. They want excitement, they want points, they want things going on and that's just the reality of it right now."
Still, there are some who don't believe the Baltimore defense's recent performances indicate it is good enough to be relied upon, despite holding a couple top offenses to below its average points scored. The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker cited the defense allowing a 22-yard pass to Pittsburgh's backup quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, in a critical moment of Sunday's game as evidence the unit isn't the NFL's best, no matter what the numbers say.
"It was a lapse that simply should not happen to a top-ranked defense…," Walker wrote. "The Ravens were at their worst when they needed to be at their best. And the evidence says we can no longer expect them to control the game against quality offenses."
Hayden Hurst Reveals Ozzie Newsome Likes Talking About Sandwiches on Draft Day
Think about how big of a day the draft is for NFL prospects. For most, getting selected to play in the NFL is the culmination of lifetime's worth of hard work, and at the same time the start of a huge new chapter. It's an emotional day.
Still, apparently that doesn't stop Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome from keeping it light on draft day, according to rookie tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst, in an article he penned for The Players’ Tribune, revealed that when he spoke to Newsome on draft day this past May, the conversation didn't start with football.
"'Hello, is this Hayden?' Ozzie Newsome, the GM of the Baltimore Ravens, asked.
'Uh, yeah,' I said, barely able to contain my excitement.
Then he asked, 'So, what are you doing?'
'I'm sitting with my family, watching the draft.'
He responded, 'Oh, good … have you eaten today?'
I was like, 'Uh, yeah?'
Then he asked, 'Oh, did you eat a sandwich?'
And at that point, I was like, 'Wait, what's going on right now?'"
Hurst goes on to reveal that Newsome was just stalling as the Ravens were submitting the card to officially draft him. As he put it, "it wasn't the most conventional way to get selected, but given my path to that moment, that seemed fitting."
Hurst's article is an interesting read that you should check out. The central theme of it is the need for people to focus on what they can control, something that Hurst is all too familiar with after having his professional baseball career derailed by a case of the yips.
Hurst missed the first four games of this season with a foot injury, and has since had a slow start on the field. He has registered four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown thus far.
"I know that despite everything I've been through, the greatest challenges I'm going to face are still ahead of me," Hurst wrote. "I still have a lot of room for growth and potential to fulfill. But throughout this entire process, even at my lowest moments, I always tried to remind myself that everything happens for a reason."
Matthew Judon's Reemergence Continues
Last week, LFW wrote about how the Ravens needed outside linebacker Matthew Judon to step up his performances on the field.
Though the overall performance of the defense on Sunday was disappointing, Judon put together a strong showing. He finished with five tackles, including Baltimore's lone sack, as well as a pass defended. His three quarterback hits made up half of the team's total. As RavensWire’s Nathan Beaucage put it, "Judon was perhaps the only Baltimore defender who delivered."
He easily graded as the Ravens' best pass rusher against Pittsburgh, according to Pro Football Focus, and was also rated as one of the team's best defenders.
"Judon] was the only Baltimore defender to trouble Roethlisberger consistently Sunday…,” [Walker wrote. "He bested the combined production of fellow outside linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs."
The Ravens had expected Judon to be a breakout player this season after a sophomore campaign in which he finished with eight sacks and 58 tackles. Instead, Judon started slow.
His performances have continued to improve as the year has gone on though, and the Ravens will need that trend to continue of they're going to get back to some of the dominant displays they had earlier in the season.
"There's not a lot of good to be taken from the Ravens' defensive play over the past three weeks," Walker wrote. "But if their 26-year-old linebacker, a potential key piece for their future, is back on track, that's something."
Steve Smith Sr. Did What When He Joined the Ravens?
Former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. has always been one for a good soundbite. I mean, this is the guy who told the Carolina Panthers, the team he played for prior to the Ravens, to take care of his lawn for him during a game in 2014. He also famously told cornerback Aqib Talib to "ice up, son" after a game in 2013.
Smith, now an analyst for the NFL Network, was at it again during "Good Morning Football" on Sunday. When discussing the recent trade of former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans, and if Thomas would help his new team against his former one when the two squared off in Week 9, Smith revealed something that he allegedly did when he joined the Ravens from Carolina.
"When I came in, I said, 'My playbook will be on my desk. What you do with it is on you,'" Smith said. "And you know what they did? They walked by my locker, picked it up, and went on."
The key to Smith's sly move was an unnamed player that had been previously cut by the Panthers gave Smith his playbook. When the Panthers switched from having their plays in notebooks to iPads a couple seasons later, they collected Smith's copy, but not the extra one he had stashed away.
It's a pretty amazing feat by Smith as NFL teams are usually extremely careful to make sure their playbooks don't fall into the hands of other teams. As Yahoo Sports’ Blake Schuster put it, "There's no telling what an NFL team wouldn't do to keep that information locked up. It's a miracle Smith lived to tell the tale."
Who knows if the Ravens really used, or benefitted, from an old Panthers playbook. Smith also likes to tell a good story.
However, it's something the Ravens will have to make sure doesn't happen this week as longtime Ravens linebacker Albert McClellan, who was cut last week from the 53-man roster to make room for running back Ty Montgomery, is reportedly set to sign a deal with the New England Patriots today.