Marlon Humphrey's play of the game in Pittsburgh, punching the ball from JuJu Smith-Schuster and recovering the fumble, was no accident. It's a technique that Ravens defenders work on repeatedly in practice, trying to knock the ball away from offensive players while making the tackle.
Humphrey's game-winning play was another example of the punch out paying off on Sunday.
Patrick "Peanut" Onwuasor made a similar play last year to secure a Week 16 victory in Los Angeles that kept Baltimore in the playoff race. Late in the fourth quarter of that game, Onwuasor punched the ball away from Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, leading to a scoop and score by Tavon Young that sealed the win.
Onwuasor is the team champion of the punch out, perfecting the technique that Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has taken to calling "shots on goal." Now Humphrey is following his lead.
Keeping track of punch outs during practice can lead to healthy arguments among players, debating which guy had the highest tally. But the point Martindale wanted to emphasize has been made. He wants the Ravens to force turnovers, and the punch outs are helping them post victories.
"Two years ago, we started talking about we needed to take the ball away more," Martindale said. "These guys are competitive. We talk about it throughout the week. We have charts on how many punch outs – we call them shots on goal. Anytime that the ball carrier's close and we have him wrapped up, you'll see a guy try to punch out the ball. And Marlon and Peanut are the best at doing it.
"Anytime we see a guy that goes and tries to punch out the ball, they get a point for it. These guys are so competitive they're in there arguing today – I had this, I had that. It's a contagious thing."
Martindale said safety DeShon Elliott, who will take on a larger defensive role with the season-ending injury to Jefferson, is leading in "shots on goal" this week in practice.
Ravens Scratching Surface on How to Utilize Marquise Brown
We've seen rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown blister opponents with his speed on deep passes.
However, Brown doesn't have to go deep to be dangerous. In college at Oklahoma, he caught wide receiver screens and ran jet sweeps and reverses, using his elusiveness and acceleration to make plays as a runner.
Just because Brown hasn't been utilized on those types of plays yet in the NFL doesn't mean he won't be. Teams are trying to take the deep ball away from Brown, and the Ravens have ways to counter.
"We'd like to definitely deploy Marquise in a variety of ways," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "I think if you do them all at once … that's one way to do it. But you kind of like to evolve and add things as you go. Rather than throw it all out there in one game, two games, it's a long season. It will continue to evolve."
Decision on Green Dot Will Be Made This Weekend
With Jefferson lost for the season, a different player will wear the green-dotted helmet, relaying defensive signals to teammates after Martindale makes the call through the helmet's speaker.
A host of players could assume that role, and Martindale said a decision would not be made until this weekend. Onwuasor held it earlier this season before Jefferson took it over.
"We obviously have some candidates," Martindale said. "We'll decide that on Saturday."
Communication is important in any defense, and the Ravens had miscommunications against the Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns that led to surrendering big plays. However, safety Earl Thomas believes the Ravens have made progress in that area, leaving them better equipped to remain organized regardless of who wears the green dot.
"We're seeing what we're good at," Thomas said. "We're seeing what we're struggling at, and we're making the right corrections. It might not show up right off, but it's going to pay off in the end."
New DT Jihad Ward Getting Acclimated to Ravens
After signing with the Ravens on Tuesday, defensive lineman Jihad Ward is spending the week getting up to speed as quickly as possible in his hope to add depth to the front seven. After playing with the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts, Ward is thrilled to be back on the East coast near his native Philadelphia.
"Oh yeah," Ward said, beaming when asked about being close to his hometown.
Ward has played both defensive tackle and defensive end and didn't think it would take long to become adjusted.
"This team is a good group of men," Ward said. "It's a different type of scheme than my last team, but I've played both schemes. Just adjust to the system. Just keep grinding and do what I got to do. Bring effort."
Don't expect Ward to play 43 snaps in his Ravens debut the way inside linebacker Josh Bynes did in Pittsburgh. Martindale was still raving about how quickly Bynes picked up the defense, and his stamina.
Martindale indicated Ward's transition to the Ravens would be at a slower pace.
"He hasn't even been fitted for pads, yet," Martindale said. "So, we'll see where he fits at. I think he can be inside. I think he can be outside. I think he could be a matchup guy, in reality. But we're really only into the second day with him practicing with us."