Ravens Defense Steps Up After Rocky Start

OLB Tyus Bowser (54)

Baltimore's defense wasn't dominant Sunday, but it was resilient, just like the Ravens have been all year long.

After the Minnesota Vikings scored on their first two possessions of the game, the Ravens' defense could have panicked and suffered through another long day. Instead, they adjusted and made critical plays that helped the Ravens pull out a gutsy 34-31 victory in overtime.

Baltimore held the Vikings to just one offensive touchdown over their final eight possessions, as the Ravens stormed back from an early 17-3 deficit and another 14-point hole after the opening kickoff of the second half.

It was an important victory for Baltimore's defense, coming off a 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in which the Ravens were shredded for 520 yards of total offense. That game was rock bottom for Baltimore, and with a bye week prior to Sunday's game, coaches and players spent plenty of time trying to figure out what needed fixing.

Clearly, the Ravens still have work to do defensively, but their tackling was better against Minnesota and the mistakes in pass coverage were fewer. And in overtime, when the Ravens really needed a defensive stand, they made the Vikings go three-and-out, forcing a Minnesota punt that led to Justin Tucker's game-winning 36-yard field goal.

For a defense that's still a work in progress, Sunday was progress, especially because the Ravens won.

"It's been up and down, but we know how good we can be," said linebacker Patrick Queen, who was active with four tackles, including one for an 8-yard loss. "We know [the] games that we lost, it was because of our tackling and just mistakes that we made. So, when we play like that, not missing tackles [and] breaking down on the ball fast, we're tough to beat."

When they break down the film, the Ravens will take a hard look at why their defense struggled early.

Baltimore made a crucial mistake on Minnesota's first touchdown, a 50-yard completion from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson, who ran a post pattern and easily split cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Chuck Clark. Cousins made an easy throw to Jefferson who waltzed into the end zone

One of the main concerns coming into the game was Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (17 carries, 110 yards), who had a 66-yard run in the first quarter that led to Minnesota's second touchdown. Stopping Cook was made tougher by the absence of nose tackle Brandon Williams, one of Baltimore's best run defenders who missed the game with a shoulder injury. On Cook's 66-yard gallop, the Ravens lost outside containment and allowed Cook to turn the corner and rumble down the sidelines.

Those are the kind of defensive breakdowns that Head Coach John Harbaugh wants to eliminate.

"The thing we've been kind of blessed with, when we've made these mistakes, haven't stayed in our coverage area, we haven't stayed in the right leverage, we've overcome them," Harbaugh said. "But we've also paid for them. We've paid dearly for them with touchdowns.

"The idea is not to give your opponent anything; it's to take what you can and give away nothing – that's winning football. We've done a lot of giving, but we've also done a lot of overcoming. I'd like to cut down on the giving. Even though it's Thanksgiving coming up, we'll be thankful for the overcoming, but we have work to do still."

However, the Ravens will return to work in a much better mood after winning, facing a short week to prepare for Thursday night's road game against the Miami Dolphins. The defense lost another starter Sunday when DeShon Elliott was lost for the season with a pectoral/biceps injury, which will force rookie safety Brandon Stephens into a bigger role.

But the way the Ravens shook off their early defensive miscues was a positive sign. Inside linebacker Josh Bynes led them with 11 tackles, and on the Vikings' lone overtime possession, Stephens made a nice tackle on Cook on first down, Tyus Bowser tackled Cook for a 1-yard gain on second down, and Clark blitzed on third down and rushed Cousins into an incompletion.

It was a collective defensive effort by the Ravens throughout the game and it ended a lot better than it started.

"We definitely got together and talked, did a lot, and really just calmed down," Bynes said. "It was just easy things that we gave up, but that's part of the game … Through all of that, fighting adversity, we overcame those mistakes and still put ourselves, our offense, in a position to go out there and leave for Tuck a field goal to win."

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