Malik Harrison is a rookie who handles himself like a veteran.
The third-round pick from Ohio State had his most impressive game at inside linebacker against the Indianapolis Colts, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles (including special teams). Harrison was starting in place of L.J. Fort (finger), and the assignment was more challenging because Harrison missed three days of practice after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Yet, Harrison played a season-high 33 snaps and made a huge impact on both defense and special teams. He seems to be gaining confidence each week.
"Just getting better every day," Harrison said. "When my number is called, I'm able to go out there and don't skip a beat. The game is slowing down more to me. (With) how hard we practice out there, it's slowed down."
First-round pick Patrick Queen has been a starter from Week 1, but drafting Harrison two rounds later furthered strengthened the Ravens at inside linebacker. Harrison is a physical tackler who often shows up around the football, the type of player who fits the Ravens' style.
"You saw why we drafted him," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He played with a lot of power, and he was getting off blocks and he made a lot of tackles. I was happy for him because he got more plays, and he showed that he deserves more plays. Malik is a physical linebacker. He plays the game the way you're supposed to play it."
With Queen, Fort, Chris Board, and Harrison, the Ravens are very pleased with their inside linebacker depth. Young players often earn more snaps by contributing on special teams, and Harrison has followed that path. Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton was not surprised that Harrison responded to a larger role on defense.
"Malik has done a great job since the time he's gotten here," Horton said. "This didn't just start last week; this started the second he was drafted. He's been playing well all year. I think, finally, he had an opportunity to go out there and get more than a couple tackles. He loves ball. He plays hard, and he's physical. He's got great length. He runs well, and he has a knack for the football. So, those traits really make a really good special teams player, and he's done a great job for us. I'll tell you this; we're fired up about him."
The Search for Pre-Snap Clues Is a Two-Way Street
Lamar Jackson made comments this week when he said on “The Rich Eisen Show” that opposing defenses were calling out the Ravens' offensive plays before the snap.
This season is different without deafening crown noise from the stands, making it very easy for defensive players to hear what the opposing team is saying. However, just like opponents are looking to anticipate the Ravens' plays before the snap, the Ravens' defense is looking for the same opportunity.
"You look for everything you can get, every tip you can get," Harbaugh said. "There's formation tips, down-and-distance tendencies, play-caller tips, stance tips, there's motion tips. About everything you can think of we look for it. Sometimes you find tendencies, sometimes you don't. Normally a tendency has to be a very high tendency. We kind of have an 80 percent threshold on that to really count on it. You have to take into account that your opponent probably understands your tendencies as well as you do. It's not too often that you can expect to know something about them that they don't know about themselves at this level."
Harbaugh said the lack of crowd noise has forced teams to become more creative when calling audibles.
"With no crowd out there, you hear a lot more, which is so interesting," Harbaugh said. "You really have to do a good job with your audibles because people study that stuff."
Harbaugh Applauds Ravens for Forcing Takeaways
The Ravens have recovered 10 fumbles this season to lead the NFL, as Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters continue to show their talent for forcing takeaways. Humphrey is the master of punching balls away from ball carriers, while no cornerback in the league can match Peters' total of 30 career interceptions since he entered the league in 2015. Peters had an interception and forced a fumble against the Colts last week, which led to Chuck Clark's recovery and run for a touchdown.
The Ravens have 12 defensive touchdowns since the start of 2018, the most in the NFL during that span.
Harbaugh says the coaching staff puts great emphasis on forcing turnovers, but he gave full credit to the players.
"Of course, it's something that we coach and we do drill it," Harbaugh said. "You've got to give the guys credit. We never want to sacrifice our tackling for punching the ball out. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do. For Marcus to get that one out last week I thought was a credit to him. Pursuit's a big part of that, too. It doesn't mean too much if you knock out the ball and nobody's there to recover it. The fact that our guys run to the ball very well is also a big part of that. So I think they deserve all the credit."
Ravens Have Grown Accustomed to Virtual Meetings
The Ravens went back into the NFL’s intensive protocol for a second straight week on Thursday after cornerback Iman Marshall, who is on injured reserve, tested positive for COVID-19. That required the Ravens to hold meetings either virtually, outdoors, or in a bubble with masks being warn and social distancing. However, Harbaugh said the Ravens had become very accustomed to this year's protocols, and he was not concerned about the team's preparation for Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots.
"It's definitely something we're comfortable with," Harbaugh said. "We have a system now, we understand how to do it. There's really no hiccups with that."