Mailbag: Examining the Defense's Start to the Season

The defense makes a group tackle.

Mink: Let's first recognize that no defense is going to be a shutdown defense against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Their offense is on another level. And considering the Raiders' Derek Carr just hung 382 yards and 26 points on the Steelers' vaunted defense, I'd say the Las Vegas offense is pretty legit, too. So the high level of competition is certainly part of the reason why Baltimore's defense hasn't been as dominant as we all expected to start the season.

Second, losing All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters certainly stung the unit. Peters was not only the defense's top playmaker, but an important energy and swagger provider on gamedays and valuable teacher during the week. Anthony Averett has played well in his place, but there's just no replacing everything Peters brings to Baltimore's defense.

Lastly, the Ravens defense has made plays at critical times, like the goal-line stand and interception in overtime in Vegas and the interception and forced fumble late in the fourth quarter versus Kansas City. That's certainly not the way the Ravens want to live, but it should count for something.

Now, to your question, the Ravens have stopped the run well (72 yards per game so far). However, they have given up a league-high 376 passing yards per game. Part of that is facing Carr and Mahomes, but Baltimore knows it can do better and will need to with a lot of very good quarterbacks on the schedule this season.

It's been surprising to see Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey on the wrong end of two long touchdowns – the overtime game-winner in Vegas (in which a bump into Malik Harrison put him a couple steps behind) and the Chiefs' first offensive touchdown Sunday night (in which Demarcus Robinson shook Humphrey with a fake to the outside and Mahomes bought time and put it on the money). But if Humphrey is the biggest "problem" right now, I think the Ravens defense is going to be perfectly fine this year. I'm not worried about Humphrey. Other injuries (Jimmy Smith, Chris Westry, DeShon Elliott) have hurt the secondary as well, taxing the unit's depth. Getting Smith (ankle) back on the field would be big after he missed the first two contests.

The Ravens have a string of three-straight games coming up against Detroit, Denver and Indianapolis – three offenses that have been good but not great so far this year. Let's see how Baltimore's defense fares over this next stretch before getting too worried or critical.

Downing: The big caveat here is when Stanley is healthy. We don't know exactly when that's going to be. Based on what Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday's game, the Ravens aren't entirely sure either. "Probably in the next week, week and a half, we'll know more," Harbaugh said. Now whenever Stanley is healthy enough to play, he's going to return to his spot at left tackle. Stanley is one of the best left tackles in football and the Ravens paid him accordingly. They aren't going to have him switch to the right side so Villanueva can stay in his natural spot.

I also think it's far too premature to suggest the Villanueva can't play on the right side. Yes, the Raiders game didn't go well for him and it looked like he's still transitioning to that spot. But that was his first game at a new position in an entirely new offense. The offensive line didn't work together much in training camp, and it takes time and repetition for a unit to gel. I expect Villanueva to improve on the right side over the course of the season as he gains familiarity with the spot and the rest of the line. But like I said at the start of this question, we just don't know when that's going to be.

Mink: Madubuike got a lot of snaps already against the Chiefs. He was on the field for 49 percent of them, which was the second-highest share of his young career and the second-most of any Ravens defensive lineman, only trailing Calais Campbell (29 to 25). More snaps for Madubuike was part of the plan going into the game, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh, who said afterwards that Odafe Oweh and Madubuike have "earned more playing time, and man, they both played great."

Madubuike made his presence felt with a tackle for a 5-yard loss in which he came unblocked up the middle and destroyed Chiefs running back Darrel Williams. I loved Madubuike's energy after that hit. It was also very clutch because two plays later, with the Chiefs facing a third-and-12, Mahomes tried to do too much and threw his game-changing interception.

As long as Derek Wolfe (back/hip) is sidelined, and we have no idea how long that will be, Madubuike will get a lot of snaps. But Baltimore will always roll its defensive linemen and I don't think the second-year defensive lineman is in line (yet) for a ton more than he's already getting.

Downing: The fourth-year cornerback is in the final season of his rookie contract and he sure looks like he's playing his way to a nice payday this offseason. Starting cornerbacks don't come cheap in the NFL, and Averett looks ready to establish himself as a starting-caliber cornerback over the course of this season.

The Ravens could have tried to extend him before the season at a discounted rate, but that's not necessarily a perfect solution. The Ravens already have invested significant money in cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Tavon Young, so it would have been tough to give out another big payday to a corner who wasn't even a starter. Plus, if the Ravens tried to sign Averett at a steep discount before the season, he may have opted to bet on himself and play out his rookie contract. We don't know what conversations have taken place behind closed doors.

Averett is going to get a nice contract this offseason if he continues to play like he has over the first two games. But I'm not faulting the Ravens for not extending him before the season. There is risk either way when it comes to contract extensions, and credit to Averett if he plays his way to a big deal.

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