The Ravens defense treated Marcus Mariota like a piñata Sunday, pounding him with a relentless pass rush that set a franchise record with 11 sacks.
This is what dominant defense looks like. With its defense ruling the day, the Ravens rolled to a 21-0 victory at Nissan Stadium. The Ravens (4-2) remain the only NFL team that has not surrendered a second-half touchdown, and in this game, the defense was magnificent.
It was no coincidence that the Ravens’ defense looked this intimidating, with former defensive coordinator Dean Pees watching from the opposite side, the man who had been the Ravens’ defensive playcaller for the six previous seasons. This was an emotional game, for the players and for Pees’ successor, first-year defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
The Ravens wanted to put on a defensive show. Mission accomplished. On the sidelines with the final seconds winding down, a group of defensive players surrounded Martindale in celebration and a Gatorade bath, and the sounds of players yelling with joy could be heard through the doors before the locker room opened for media.
This was no ordinary game. But it was an extraordinary defensive performance.
“We had to be happy for Wink, setting records, playing against a former defensive coordinator,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “This game meant a lot, whether people wanted to say it or not. The way we won mattered. He definitely downplayed it, but we know. When you’re a competitor, deep inside it matters. Everything matters. I think we came through for him today.”
Mariota had only been sacked six times in the first five games of the season, but the Titans looked helpless to protect him from the Ravens’ onslaught. Eight different Ravens had at least one sack, led by three from Za’Darius Smith and two from Patrick Onwausor. Mariota wasn’t sure which Raven would hit him next, but when he dropped back to pass, he knew it was probably going to hurt.
Defense has been a constant for the Ravens this season, and they believe this unit can be special. But no matter how good your defense is, what the Ravens did Sunday was special. The Ravens surrendered just 106 total yards and one third-down conversion. Mariota completed fewer passes (10) than he took sacks (11).
“We believe we can be a special defense, and we took strides toward that today,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. "It was amazing to be a part of. It started with Wink coming up with a game plan, and assistant coaches devising something that we could be confident in and execute. We were just a step ahead of what they were doing. We felt if our back end was covering, our rush was going to get there. Eleven sacks, that’s one for the memories. When I’m done playing, I’ll always remember that I was a part of this game.”
Smith is having his best season with the Ravens in a contract year. From the start of the game, he was a catalyst for the defense, stalking Mariotta numerous times in the first half. When the Ravens reached nine sacks, Smith said someone informed them that the next sack would set a team record.
“They said, ‘Get one more, we’re going to break a record,’” Smith said. “So we went and got two more.”
Smith said the Ravens’ respect for Pees helped motivate them to play better. Pees took a liking to Smith at the Kentucky Pro Day and told him he would help make him play like a Raven. Smith has never forgotten it. But Smith also wanted to shout out his current coordinator.
“Love [Pees] to death, but we won tonight, so I’m going to leave it at that,” Smith said. “Wink, he’s cutting us loose. He’s letting guys do what we do best and get after that quarterback and lock down on coverage.”
The offense helped the defense by scoring two early touchdowns, jumping to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. That forced the Titans to rely on their passing game, and once the Ravens make an offense one-dimensional, their quarterback is in trouble.
Mariota would have been sacked more than he was if not for his mobility. He got outside the pocket several times to escape the rush, but the Titans offense never seriously threatened. Their deepest penetration was to the Ravens’ 37-yard line. The Titans’ receivers were blanketed by the Ravens’ corners, and Mariota was engulfed by Baltimore’s pass rush. Tennessee’s top wide receiver, Corey Davis, caught just one pass for 24 yards.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco appreciated watching the defensive show from the sideline. He knew once the Ravens took the lead, their defense would never relinquish it.
“It’s fun to watch – they pitched a shutout,” Flacco said. “They helped our offense out a ton. I think we helped them out a little bit with some long drives, helping them get some rest. But you’re not going to see too many (games) like that.”