The Ravens shut out the Tennessee Titans in an 11-sack domination in Week 6. They held the high-powered New Orleans Saints to just seven points through three quarters the week after.
Even after the Sunday's 36-21 loss, the Ravens defense is still tops in the league in yards (280.6) and points (14.4) allowed per game.
But there's no doubt that things have changed recently.
Over the last five quarters, the Ravens have given up 53 points. Since the start of the fourth quarter against the Saints, Baltimore's defense surrendered points on eight of the next nine drives.
So what changed? Head Coach John Harbaugh shined some light on that during Monday's press conference.
"People are playing completely different," Harbaugh said. "We're not getting too much drop-back pass. People aren't going to drop-back pass and let us rush the quarterback and cover. That's the main thing."
The Panthers didn't hit many big plays against the Ravens defense. Their longest completion was a 33-yarder down the seam to wide receiver D.J. Moore, who paced Carolina with 90 receiving yards. Newton was efficient, completing 21 of 29 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns.
The week before was similar. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 22 of 30 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns – nearly identical stats to Newton. The Saints' leading receiver was Michael Thomas, who had seven grabs for 69 yards and a touchdown. They had one play over 30 yards.
What both teams did well against Baltimore was that they picked up yards on first down. They put themselves in second- and third-and-manageable distances. That has enabled them to keep running the ball and taken the teeth out of Baltimore's pass rush – which led the NFL after six weeks.
Over the past two games, the Ravens have notched just one sack. They didn't sack Newton and got just four quarterback hits.
"The game plans that we've gotten the last two weeks have been very different than the ones we've seen on tape," Harbaugh said. "Within the realm of what those teams do, but much more skewed toward exotic run-game type stuff, play-action pass, boots, waggles, exotic motions – things like that to keep us off-balance and not let us play downhill. We've got to adjust to that."
Harbaugh said part of the adjustment has to be to play with more discipline, especially when facing a team with great team speed like the Panthers. At the end of the day, the Ravens need to break the blueprint on what works well against them.
"We're going to see a lot of that going forward for the rest of the season, because I think people use that type of stuff – along with tempo and no-huddle and things like that – to negate the things that we're doing on defense," Harbaugh said.
Lack of Turnovers Is Another Issue
The Ravens led the NFL in takeaways (34) last season and had an NFL-best +17 turnover differential.
This year, Baltimore's defense has been better in terms of yards, points allowed and sacks, but it hasn't gotten nearly as many turnovers. The Ravens have just seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles). Only five teams have fewer.
Again, Harbaugh pointed to teams' approach against the Ravens as part of the reason.
"I think teams are being very careful with the football – there's no question about that. They tend to do that when you're a team that has a reputation for taking the ball away," Harbaugh said. "I think this year, that's been part of the plan coming in. I think they've been a little more conservative in some ways.
"Some it's on us – we haven't made plays on the ball all the time like we need to. Sometimes the ball hasn't gone our way. But we haven't caused very many fumbles, and we haven't gotten our hands on as many balls as we did last year for sure. We have to find a way to do that. I'm disappointed in that for sure."
Meanwhile, the Ravens offense has turned the ball over 11 times – including three (two interceptions, one fumble) in Carolina. That has Baltimore with a -4 turnover differential that is tied for seventh-worst in the league.
"We're minus four. You can put [our record] right on that if you want," Harbaugh said. "If we're not minus four, what's our record? If we're even? If we're plus four, what's our record?"
No Update on Ronnie Stanley; Jermaine Eluemunor Played Well
Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with what looked to be a scary injury when quarterback Joe Flacco fell into the back of his knee Sunday.
In a huge relief, Stanley returned later in the game, but his status for Sunday's game against the Steelers is unknown.
"I'm not going to get into all that," Harbaugh said when asked for an update. "We'll just see how it goes."
Stanley was replaced by second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, who was brought up from the practice squad last week, and played 19 snaps.
"He did pretty well," Harbaugh said of Eluemunor. "It was mostly pass protection – he's good in pass protection. He's stout and firm, and he handled the bull rushes really well – probably the best of all of our guys throughout the course of the game. I was very encouraged by that."
Harbaugh Confused by Penalty on Fake Punt
One of the pivotal plays in Sunday's loss was a failed fake punt from the Ravens' own 10-yard line. It was fourth-and-1 after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson spiked a pass intended for wide-open Willie Snead IV into the ground.
In a bold move when they already had a 7-point lead, the Ravens did a direct snap from Morgan Cox to special teams co-captain Anthony Levine Sr., who ran seven yards up the middle for what would have been a momentum-grabbing first down.
Instead, the Ravens were called for an illegal shift, according to the broadcast, on Levine. That was wrong, however, as Harbaugh said officials told him it was on the center, Cox.
"We talked to [the officials] quite a bit on the sideline about it. Never seen that call in 21 years, and the center was set for a second, so I'm not sure what the call was," Harbaugh said.
"We sent it in [to the league]; we'll see. But, you can't control the official. The official makes the call that he makes. It was a huge play in the game."
Harbaugh said he gave the officials a heads up that they had a fake punt call.
"We told them we had a dive on," Harbaugh said. "Maybe we shouldn't have. Who knows? Maybe there's some kind of psychology with that that I'm not aware of."