Brian Baldinger: Ravens Defense Has Improved at All Three Levels
With the Ravens offense putting up 38 points in Week 1 and Lamar Jackson winning yet another AFC Offensive Player of the Week award, perhaps the outstanding job the defense did in holding a talented Cleveland Browns offense to six points isn't getting enough attention.
How well Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit played wasn't lost on NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, however.
Baldinger had high praise for offseason additions Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and rookies Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison.
"Calais Campbell is a problem. He's a problem with his size. He batted a bunch of balls down," Baldinger said. "Two new linebackers, Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen. Queen was everywhere on Sunday. Led the team in tackles. And his speed just shows up. If you have a fast middle linebacker, your defense just looks faster. Then there's Derek Wolfe. He's just a proven player in this business. He knows how to play."
Baldinger also was complimentary of the hard-hitting play of third-year safety DeShon Elliott, who made his first career start after being limited to just six games over his first two seasons due to injuries. Elliott's crushing hit on Browns running back Kareem Hunt caused the Ravens' sideline to erupt.
Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager was impressed by Baltimore's defensive effort, as well.
"I'd like to talk about Wink Martindale's defense because they keep on getting better and better every season," Schrager said. "It was an all-out attack on Baker Mayfield. … The Browns were 3-for-12 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down. Baker was running like a chicken with his head cut off because the Ravens defense was all over the field.
"Lamar's great, we know that. It's going to be the defense that gets them to that next level. Calais was fantastic in his debut. Patrick Queen was fantastic as a rookie."
Linebacker L.J. Fort was the Ravens' unsung hero of the game, Baltimore Beatdown's Peter Daubert wrote.
"Fort was not named a starter for Week 1, as the Ravens opted to start rookie Malik Harrison over him," Daubert wrote. "Additionally, he was only on the field for 32% of the defensive snaps. … Still, he managed to rack up six solo tackles, including the tackle and forced fumble on Browns punter Jamie Gillan. He also only allowed eight yards on throws that were targeted near him."
Of course, as good as the defense was on Sunday, there's always room for improvement. One area that needs to get better is the pass rush, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. The Ravens sacked Mayfield twice and hit him six times.
"However, in a game where the Browns had to abandon the run in the second half, [Head Coach John] Harbaugh and company would have probably liked to see a little more consistent push from the pass rushers, specifically the edge guys," Zrebiec wrote.
"Tyus Bowser got a sack, but it was more a result of Mayfield holding onto the ball too long. Rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen also got a sack with a blitz up the middle. Otherwise, Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson and Jihad Ward combined for two quarterback hits. The Ravens will need more from them against Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes the next two weeks."
Ravens Added New Wrinkles to Offense in Opener
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman continues to add new wrinkles to a revolutionary attack that took the league by storm last year. The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer identified three things the unit did in the season opener that could be revelatory:
1. Deep shots. "Jackson entered this season eager to prove he could make all the throws. And what better way to prove your accuracy on deep balls and outside-the-numbers routes than a first-quarter play combining both? Jackson will throw few passes this season prettier than his 47-yard, in-stride strike to wide receiver Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown. The Ravens' play design made clear that they wanted a deep shot — their play-action called on seven blockers to stay home — and they got the matchup they wanted, too. … The final product was everything that could elevate the Ravens offense to another level: a clean pocket, a healthy Brown and a downfield bull's-eye. On plays in which the ball traveled at least 10 yards in the air, Jackson was 11-for-13 for 194 yards and three touchdowns."
2. Screen time. "On Sunday, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman called just one screen play, close to his weekly average in 2019. It happened to be Jackson's first pass of the season — a screen to speedy rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who feasted on the play call at Texas. This one worked, too: With tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle leading the way, Duvernay was 8 or 9 yards past the line of scrimmage before a defender contacted him. The 12-yard completion was a preview of what could be available to the Ravens. Screens are best when they attack numerical imbalances. When Jackson lined up before the snap, he had three Ravens receivers, Duvernay included, matched up against two Browns defenders. A play-action fake froze the linebackers and maintained the advantage. When Duvernay got the ball, the math was in his favor."
3. A new option. "When the Ravens break their own mold, it's noticeable. That was the case in the first quarter, when Brown went in motion to his right, the offensive line blocked to its right — and Jackson ran a speed option to his left with running back Mark Ingram II. There was nobody blocking for them, but there were no linebackers to tackle them, either. With a little bit of window dressing and misdirection, Jackson ran for 15 yards before pitching the ball to Ingram, who bobbled it, recovered it and fell forward for another 3 yards. Run defenses can't freelance against the Ravens. They also can't forget that Jackson's speed makes him an open-field nightmare. That's the headache this offense causes."
Five Ravens Who Could Reset Market at Their Positions
It's often been noted that the Ravens' success at developing homegrown players the past several years will make it extremely difficult to keep them all when the time comes for contract extensions.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler predicted the next players to reset the market, and a number of Ravens were on the list. At the top was Jackson.
"Premier first-round quarterbacks get paid after three seasons now, and Jackson is well-positioned to follow Deshaun Watson and [Patrick] Mahomes into the $40 million-per-year threshold," Fowler wrote. "He looked great Week 1 with 275 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-25 passing. An encore to an MVP season would force the issue with Baltimore."
The player protecting Jackson's blind side, Ronnie Stanley, has emerged as the league's premier left tackle.
"The tackle market pushed beyond $20 million annually thanks to [Laremy] Tunsil, who had the unique leverage of the Texans trading two first-round picks to get him," Fowler wrote. "The buzz is that Stanley wants an even bigger number, which is probably why this isn't done yet. But it will be."
Another offensive lineman, center Matt Skura, is an under-the-radar possibility to reset the market at his position, according to Fowler.
"Baltimore tendered Skura at $2.1 million despite his coming off major knee surgery, which is a good sign," Fowler wrote. "If Skura plays well early in the year, don't be surprised if Baltimore tries to get a deal done."
Turning to the defensive side of the ball, Marlon Humphrey and the New Orleans Saints' Marshon Lattimore are the next cornerbacks in line for market-setting contracts.
"These first-round picks from the 2017 class have entered the elite discussion," Fowler wrote. "Both teams looked into signing them before Week 1, in lieu of the inflating cornerback market thanks to [Jalen] Ramsey and Tre'Davious White ($17 million per year), but couldn't reach an agreement."
Judon is another under-the radar possibility to be the highest-paid player at his position, Fowler contended.
"Yes, Baltimore has a lot of players to pay. But Judon is in a position to up his value in a big way in 2020," Fowler wrote. "He's coming off a 9.5-sack season as the team's primary edge rusher, and if he shows the ability to anchor for the second straight year, Baltimore might have no choice but to hand him a long-term deal."
ESPN: Ravens Fans Get Good Bang for Their Buck at M&T Bank Stadium
ESPN ranked the current NFL stadiums, and while M&T Bank Stadium placed in the middle of the pack (No. 15), several aspects of the Baltimore gameday experience were lauded.
"Ravens fans get good bang for their buck at M&T, as it's a cost-effective experience, especially considering the usual high quality of football the Ravens produce," ESPN.com staff wrote. "The concession stands feature a lot of local favorites (such as tasty crab cakes), and the seating configuration puts fans right on top of the action. The location is right by Camden Yards and not far from the Inner Harbor, and the Ray Lewis and Johnny Unitas statues are a nice touch."
Although the stadium is the oldest in the AFC North, having opened in 1998, it doesn't feel that way, ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.
"It features some of the largest and best high-definition video boards, an assortment of food and lively pregame festivities at RavensWalk, which makes it feel like tailgating downtown," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens have continually made investments in making sure the look of M&T Bank Stadium hasn't declined. As part of a $120 million upgrade in 2019, the team added escalators to the upper deck, a new sound system and LED lights."