Late for Work 6/16: Ravens Ranked As Best Defensive Team of the Decade

061620LFW
OLB Matthew Judon and CB Marcus Peters

Ravens Ranked As Best Defensive Team of the Decade

The Ravens have long had a reputation for great defense, so it should come as no surprise they were named the best defensive team of the past decade by ESPN.

Even though Ray Lewis retired after the 2012 season and fellow Hall of Famer Ed Reed also departed at that time, Baltimore maintained its defensive excellence year in and year out.

During the years 2010-2019, the Ravens defense ranked first in defensive efficiency (59.4), third in points per game (19.7) and second in yards per game (322.6), per ESPN. Moreover, the Ravens finished in the top 10 in fewest points allowed seven times, including four years in the top three.

"At the start of the decade, the Ravens' defense dominated with two future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. By the close of it, Baltimore was turning turnovers into touchdowns with Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Marlon Humphrey," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.

After the first four weeks of the 2019 season, the Ravens defense was making headlines for the wrong reasons. The unit surrendered more than 500 yards in consecutive losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns Weeks 3 and 4 and was ranked 27th in the league.

The narrative was that the mighty had fallen, but it turned out reports of the Ravens defense's demise were greatly exaggerated.

Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's squad was the NFL's top-ranked defense over the final 13 weeks of the season, thanks in large part to some shrewd moves by General Manager Eric DeCosta, including trading for All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters. For the season, the Ravens were No. 3 in points allowed and No. 4 in yards allowed.

The Ravens are poised to begin the new decade with another dominant defense. CBS Sports' Jared Dubin put the Ravens at No. 1 in his preseason rankings of the league's top 10 defenses.

"Did you know that the Ravens finished last season fourth in defensive DVOA? Did you know that they snagged Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front, retained Matt Judon with the franchise [tag], picked up the best coverage linebacker in the draft with Patrick Queen, added even more depth and versatility to the defensive line with Justin Madubuike, and will now have Marcus Peters for a full season?" Dubin wrote. "Do you realize how much depth there is in this secondary? Jimmy Smith is the third-best corner on this team. … Oh, and they have Earl Thomas patrolling center field. There are no weaknesses here. Expect big things.

Ravens Are Getting Incredible Value for Their Money on Offense

Among the reasons for the Ravens' success on defense is that the organization has heavily invested in it. Baltimore's 2020 salary cap commitment for defense is $119.6 million, which ranks second in the league, according to overthecap.com.

The adage that you get what you pay for does not apply to the Ravens offense, however. Baltimore has nearly everyone back from last season's No. 1 scoring offense, but the team is last in offensive cap spending for 2020. Talk about getting bang for your buck.

"To put that in perspective, more than half of the teams in the league are using more than $100 million of cap space on their offense and two teams, the Indianapolis Colts and Las Vegas Raiders, are spending more than double than the Ravens," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

It helps when you have the unanimous 2019 NFL MVP, Lamar Jackson, still playing on his rookie contract.

"A quality starting quarterback on a rookie contract is one of the most valuable commodities in the sport," Zrebiec wrote. "Jackson is occupying a little more than $2.5 million of salary cap space this year. That ranks 38th among NFL quarterbacks and is less than the cost of backups like AJ McCarron and Case Keenum. Veteran Robert Griffin III also makes middle-tier backup quarterback money."

The Ravens also are getting tremendous value at tight end. They use more multi-tight end sets than any team in the league, but are 18th in spending at the position.

"The Ravens didn't hesitate last offseason in signing Nick Boyle to a three-year, $18 million extension. The deal seemed a bit steep at first glance, but Boyle showed again last year that he's one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and that's a critical role in the Ravens' run-first offense," Zrebiec wrote. "Mark Andrews, a 2019 third-round pick who made the Pro Bowl in his second season, should be a bargain for another two years."

Baltimore ranks 28th in spending at wide receiver and last in spending on the offensive line.

"Seven of the Ravens' 11 receivers are in their first or second years in the NFL," Zrebiec wrote. "In the past, the Ravens built their wide receiver corps through veteran signings, but their philosophy has clearly changed. They've prioritized letting Jackson grow with a young receiving group, mostly acquired through the draft.

"Marshal Yanda's retirement leaves the Ravens with only two offensive linemen who are not on their rookie contracts, and veterans D.J. Fluker and Andre Smith aren't making a lot as the exceptions," Zrebiec added. " … The Ravens have opted to build their offensive line through the draft and it's proven to be a smart and cheap formula."

Despite setting the single-season rushing record last season, the Ravens were in the bottom half of the league (18th) in spending on running backs.

"The Ravens were rumored to be in the bidding for free agent Le'Veon Bell last offseason, but they had other ideas," Zrebiec wrote. "They felt that veteran Mark Ingram was a cheaper and better fit to lead a young running back group, and they signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal. … Bell's cap hit with the Jets this year is $15.5 million. That's nearly double of what Ingram, [J.K.] Dobbins, [Justice] Hill and [Gus] Edwards will cost combined."

As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, the Ravens should enjoy their enviable offensive cap situation while they can. Players such as Jackson and Andrews won't be playing on rookie contracts forever, and All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is entering his fifth-year option season, is likely to become the highest-paid offensive linemen in the league.

"The pressure is on the Ravens to win a Super Bowl in the next year or two while Jackson is still playing on his rookie deal," Zrebiec wrote. "It will be much harder to build a deep and talented roster around him when Jackson is getting paid at the top of the quarterback market."

Wide Receiver Coach Has High Expectations for Devin Duvernay, James Proche

Perhaps no one knows the skill sets of Ravens rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche better than professional wide receiver coach David Robinson. Robinson has been working with both players since they were in high school in Texas and has continued to work with them this offseason. He expects them to complement each other well in Baltimore.

"Proche is going to be used kind of like Jarvis Landry was used when he was in Miami, with the quick routes, the crossing routes, the option routes. And Duvernay is similar to Hollywood Brown, who can take the top off a defense, as well as give them screens, jet sweeps, just to get the ball in his hands because he's built like a running back," Robinson said on "Inside Access" on 105.7 The Fan. "It will be tough to stop all three of them on the field at the same time."

Duvernay and Proche both have reputations as sure-handed receivers. Robinson said Proche's hands are at an elite level.

"I'll put his hands up there with [Odell Beckham Jr.], the best of them," Robinson said of Proche, a sixth-round pick who has been labeled as one of the steals of the draft by pundits. "He has really good hand-eye coordination."

Robinson said Duvernay and Proche are benefitting from their workout sessions with Griffin this offseason.

"They're looking good," Robinson said. "You can tell that RG3 has been around the NFL for a while as far as the knowledge and the IQ that he's giving these young receivers on when to break certain routes off and when to sit in the zone, so it's been very gratifying watching him teach those young wideouts in Proche and Duvernay."

Calais Campbell Is Ravens' Biggest X-Factor

Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end who was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick this offseason and signed to a one-year extension, is the Ravens' biggest X-factor, according to Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox.

"The Baltimore Ravens added a few intriguing pieces this offseason. Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell has the potential to make the most dramatic impact," Knox wrote. "Last season, Baltimore struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks, amassing only 37 sacks (21st in the NFL). Though a lot will depend on how much the 33-year-old has left in the proverbial tank, Campbell — who had 31.5 sacks over the last three seasons — could be a difference-maker in the front seven."

Knox is not alone in his thinking regarding the impact Campbell could make. NFL Network's Deion Sanders and ESPN's Mina Kimes are among the analysts who said the Ravens' acquisition of Campbell was the most underrated move in the NFL this offseason.

Quick Hits

  • Hill took to Twitter to voice support for former Oklahoma State teammate Chuba Hubbard, who tweeted that he "will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things change." Hubbard's comments came in response to a photo of Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy wearing an OAN t-shirt. One America News Network is a far-right cable channel.
  • Pro Football Focus broke down why the AFC North is the division with the best chance to send three teams (the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers) to the playoffs this season.

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