The Ravens are not shying away from defensive issues that need to be tackled.
It's uncharacteristic to see the Ravens ranked 24th in overall defense heading into Week 6 of the NFL season. But that's Baltimore's situation, after giving up 513 yards of offense against the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football."
It was the first time the Ravens surrendered more than 500 yards since September of 2020, and it took a virtuoso comeback led by Lamar Jackson for the Ravens to escape with a 31-25 overtime win.
Poor tackling and inconsistent pass defense against running backs, tight ends and screen passes has led to Baltimore yielding huge plays. A glaring indication of Baltimore's problems came in the first series against the Colts, when on third-and-15 Jonathan Taylor took a screen in the flat from Carson Wentz and went 76 yards untouched for a touchdown.
Now the Ravens are preparing to face the Los Angeles Chargers (4-1) on Sunday, led by a talented young quarterback in Justin Herbert who is setting the NFL ablaze. Herbert has thrown for more yards this season than anyone except Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford, and only Patrick Mahomes (16) and Brady (15) have thrown more touchdown passes than Herbert (13).
Are the Ravens ready for that? Their defense won't shy away from the challenge, entering this game with something to prove.
"We didn't play to our standard defensively," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "I think everybody's well aware of that. But I think the thing that impresses me about this defense is, just their will to win at the end of the game. Their intensity and how they finish these games. It shouldn't go unrecognized. There was never any quit in any individual.
"Do we need to work on our angles? Yes. Do we need to finish some tackles? Yes, and we're constantly working on it. Every week's going to be a new challenge and this is going to be a big one."
Baltimore's inside linebackers have been under scrutiny as both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison struggled against the Colts. As the game progressed, Chris Board's playing time increased while Queen and Harrison saw less action. Queen played a season-low 72% of the defensive snaps, Harrison played a season-low 26.1%, while Board has played at least 46% of the snaps the past two weeks.
Baltimore has missed the veteran presence of inside linebacker L.J. Fort, lost for the season with a knee injury. The Ravens hoped Queen and Harrison would take their games to the next level in their second seasons, and while it could happen, it hasn't yet. Queen and Harrison have both been guilty of overrunning plays, or being a split-second slow to read and react. Queen has been one of the main culprits of missed tackles.
Martindale said it's a reflection of two young players giving their best effort, but perhaps trying to do too much.
"It's the full gamut of recognizing different schemes and getting downhill and reacting faster to different kinds of schemes," Martindale said. "When the ball's snapped, if they're slow to it, you're going to see the results that you see. They just have to react faster, attack, and then once they get there they need to tackle.
"In P.Q.'s case, it's a young, fast player that's trying to do everybody else's job and he needs to do his. He's trying to make every play. Just make the play he's supposed to make and we'll be good as a defense."
Herbert's main target is Mike Williams, a physical 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver who is fifth in the league in receiving yards (471). Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (34 catches, 369 yards, one touchdown) is having another strong season.
It would not be surprising to see the Chargers attack Anthony Averett, who has replaced the injured Marcus Peters as the corner playing opposite All-Pro Marlon Humphrey. Averett got off to a strong start this season, but he was victimized for several big plays against the Colts. According to Next Gen Stats, Averett surrendered eight catches for 161 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets.
Martindale believes Averett will respond.
"You don't need to build up his confidence," Martindale said. "These are one-game seasons. With all these guys, I still have the confidence in them as I had standing up here whatever week you want to pick out. But as a defense, you have to handle a series of events. As an individual, you have to handle a series of events. He obviously had a tough go of it, but I have nothing but confidence in him."
As good as Herbert is, part of the Ravens' defensive success Sunday will be determined by how well they stop the run. The Colts averaged 8.1 yards per carry, and the Ravens have missed defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (back/hip), who has not played all season, and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who came off the Reserve/Covid 19 list this week after missing three games. However, regardless of who has been missing, nose tackle Brandon Williams found the run defense against the Colts to be unacceptable.
"When it comes to stopping the run, first and foremost, I look at myself and look outward from there," Williams said. "But most of all, (I) put it on my shoulders and make sure I'm doing everything I need to do during the week."
It's a short week for the Ravens and a key week for their defense. The Chargers have a prolific offense, but the Ravens have 12 games left to start playing the kind of defense they're used to.
"For us, we've just got to play our game, play Raven football, play the right way – the way we played it in Denver and not [like] last week or any other week," Williams said. "We've just got to keep building up as we go."