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Late for Work 6/9: Ravens' Revamped Defense Could Be Dominant

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Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

Ravens' Revamped Defense Could Be Dominant

After an uncharacteristically subpar performance by their defense last season, the Ravens have revamped the unit and could return to being a dominant force.

Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi said there's ample reason to be optimistic about the Ravens on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense.

The strength of new Defensive Coordinator's Mike Macdonald's unit is a secondary that could be the best in the league. After finishing last in passing yards allowed last season, in part because cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey being lost to season-ending injuries, the Ravens added first-round safety Kyle Hamilton and free agent safety Marcus Williams.

"Macdonald's defense has versatility and depth in the backfield," Lombardi wrote. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of safeties that possess the ranginess and ball skills of Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton. Throw in the veteran leadership and intelligence of Chuck Clark, the chameleon-like talents of second-year player Brandon Stephens, the moxie of Tony Jefferson, the development of Geno Stone and the impressive collection of corners led by Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and suddenly, it becomes undeniably naïve to think that there won't be marked improvement on the back-end of the defense."

The Ravens bolstered the defensive front by signing free agents Michael Pierce and Brent Urban and drafting Travis Jones in the third round. The team is expecting inside linebacker Patrick Queen to make a jump in Year 3. Lombardi noted that Queen's play picked up after the Ravens inserted veteran Josh Bynes into the starting lineup, and Bynes is back.

Pass rush is the biggest question mark, as Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh and second-round pick David Ojabo are all coming off surgeries, but Lombardi thinks the pass rush will be better than it was last year.

"All will be available to the Ravens at some point during the season," Lombardi wrote. "The club is also expected to bring in a veteran to help along the edge – most likely Justin Houston. At some point in the season, this group will be a more formidable one than the unit that finished 2021. The big question is 'When?' But, having said that, there's reason to be optimistic."

There's been talk that the Ravens are looking to replicate their record-setting, run-oriented 2019 offense, which also would benefit the defense.

"It's fairly plain to see that the Ravens could once again dominate time of possession, thus enabling the defense to stay fresh and at times force opposing offenses into being one-dimensional, like they did back in 2019," Lombardi wrote.

Browns Executive: Hiring Sashi Brown as Team President Is a 'Really, Really Smart Move'

The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote an in-depth profile on Sashi Brown and the unique path he took to becoming the Ravens' team president.

One of the main takeaways from the article is how Brown changed the culture in the Browns organization during his time there as executive vice president of football operations in 2016-2017.

The Browns were coming off eight consecutive losing seasons when he took the job, and he understood that they might need to get worse before they got better. Cleveland went 1-27 during Brown's tenure, but he laid the foundation for the team becoming significantly more competitive and winning a playoff game in 2020, its first postseason appearance and victory since 2002.

"[Andrew] Berry and [Paul] DePodesta, who are running the team now, said the Browns could not have made the playoffs in 2020 without Brown's foresight in stockpiling draft picks and clearing salary cap room," Walker wrote.

DePodesta said: "One of the things that's really too bad is that he didn't ultimately get to enjoy the successes that we have had. Because he's responsible for a lot of it. He laid down a lot of the foundation, which was awfully, awfully difficult at the time."

Berry, the Browns' current general manager, said he never saw Brown lose faith in his plan or turn cold to the people around him.

"He is very secure in his skin," Berry said. "He was the same guy every day, a steady hand to guide the ship when the ship was going through very turbulent waters. … That consistency was something that all of us as younger executives took with us, something that we really learned from Sashi."

DePodesta, the Browns' chief strategy officer, believes the Ravens made a smart decision in hiring Brown to succeed Dick Cass, who retired in February after 18 years as team president.

"You could drop him into any company out there and he would much sooner rather than later be in a senior position, with a lot of people hanging on his every word," DePodesta said. "He'll be a great face for that organization. I think the Ravens have always been a tremendous organization, and this is just another really, really smart move by them."

Isaiah Likely Talks About Playing With Lamar Jackson, Being Inspired by Mark Andrews

Fourth-round tight end Isaiah Likely, who signed his rookie contract earlier this week, appeared on "Glenn Clark Radio" yesterday. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

How he views himself as a player: "I definitely say I view myself as an athlete because not only can I play tight end, but I can play in the slot, play outside. I'm really just that chess piece that finds mismatches in the defense, finds holes, finds their weaknesses, and just having a great offensive coordinator letting me exploit that."

What it will be like to play with Lamar Jackson: "To go from playing with him in Madden to standing in the same huddle as him is going to be a surreal moment."

Being inspired by Mark Andrews going from a third-round pick to an All-Pro: "He told me it's not how you got here but what you did when you get here. So it's really just maximizing the opportunity once it's given to you. I talk to Mark Andrews every day just really off of what he sees from a passing standpoint just because he's one of the most dynamic playmakers in his route and with the ball in his hands."

Being part of a deep tight end room: "It's really just soaking in everything that the vets have to say. They've been through the rookie year and they've been doing this quite a while, so they understand what it takes to be a pro. After my reps or in between reps, what I could've done to have a better outcome or what did they see that I didn't see. And then just taking that into the next rep, I'm prepared more than I was the last rep."

Ravens Not in Top 10 in PFF Power Rankings, But 'They Can Go on Stretches of Dominant Play'

As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, the oddsmakers and pundits (generally speaking) view the Ravens as a playoff contender but not one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson reflected that assessment in his latest power rankings, in which he divided the 32 teams into five tiers.

The Ravens came in at No. 11, the last of six teams in the second tier, which Monson titled, "Could Be Their Year."

"Few teams were as ravaged by injuries as the Ravens last season, and it propelled them from the top seed in the AFC at one point in the year to outside of the playoffs by the end of the season," Monson wrote. "Just getting healthy again makes the Ravens a real playoff team once again, and they can go on stretches of dominant play that scares any team in the league."

The Ravens were the third-highest-ranked team in the AFC North, trailing the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 8) and Cleveland Browns (No. 10).

The top tier ("True Contenders'') consisted of the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.

Quick Hits

  • Steve Smith's 80-yard touchdown catch against the Bengals in Baltimore in 2014 was No. 1 on Kyle Brandt's top five "angry runs" of this era.

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