The Ravens’ top-ranked rush defense had its pride checked Sunday.
Baltimore yielded a whopping 169 rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles, including 128 yards and a touchdown from running back Ryan Mathews.
That’s more than twice as many rushing yards as the Ravens had allowed per game this season (75.5). The Eagles were over 100 yards in the first three quarters alone.
“That was a huge wake-up call,” nose tackle Michael Pierce said.
“We’d prefer it not happen that way, but it happened. We’re going to get back to work and identify everything and get it corrected before we get to Pittsburgh, most definitely.”
So what did the Eagles do to gash the Ravens’ seemingly impenetrable wall?
They brought their zone-stretch run scheme to Baltimore, which they have employed since the days when Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo were still in Philadelphia. They do it well.
“I think they did a good job of scheming us up and just blocking us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a stretch-zone scheme and they were doing a great job of reaching our guys and cutting us off on the backside.”
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the Ravens didn’t feel the need to commit extra help to stopping the run because they’ve stopped it with two high safeties all year.
“Everybody watches film,” Mosley said. “They schemed us up; they’ve got good running backs too. They made good cuts and made good plays. … That’s the kind of defense we play. We don’t have to jam up the box to stop the run.”
Philadelphia had two reserve offensive linemen in the starting lineup and were without shifty veteran running back Darren Sproles, but it didn’t matter.
“Our offensive line did an unbelievable job today. They took it upon themselves to try and be dominant,” Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said.
“The line played great today. You have to give all the credit to them,” Mathews added. “It’s getting on a roll. Guys were excited to run the ball.”
It’s not often opponents say that after facing Baltimore’s front seven.
Mathews carried some drives as the Eagles continually handed him the rock. He ran six times on one 17-play drive in the second quarter, racking up 46 yards.
As the game went on, Mathews broke bigger gains. In the fourth quarter, he had rumbles of 19 and 18 yards. He didn’t get a single carry on Philadelphia’s final drive, however, and didn’t get the ball on the final two-point conversion attempt, even though he leapt over Baltimore’s defensive line to convert a two-point conversion earlier in the game.
“Ryan Mathews is a great back. He found some holes we didn’t anticipate him seeing,” Pierce said.
The Ravens will face an even better running back Sunday in Pittsburgh with Le’Veon Bell. Bell entered the day with the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL (1,053), and the second-most yards per game (105.3) just barely behind Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
Bell posted another 93 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday and had 236 yards against the Buffalo Bills the week before. He was held to a season-low 32 yards on 14 carries versus the Ravens in Week 9, however.
The Steelers could employ a stretch-zone scheme similar to the Eagles, Harbaugh said.
“It means you’ve got to get back in the film room this week because we know what kind of running back we’re going against and what kind of offensive line [Pittsburgh has], so we’ve got to make sure we don’t let that happen next week,” Mosley said.