Mike Preston: Ravens’ defense arrives against Chargers and sets 2021 standard | COMMENTARY

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Last week’s debacle against the Indianapolis Colts was a speed bump for the Ravens defense, not a case of the team hitting the wall.

They can get better and proved as much Sunday in a 34-6 trouncing of the Los Angeles Chargers. Against one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL, the Ravens went old school. They held the Chargers scoreless except for a two-play, 27-yard touchdown drive off a turnover in the second quarter.


The Ravens sacked Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert only twice but consistently harassed him in the pocket. Los Angeles had only 26 rushing yards on 12 carries and their leading ball-carrier was Herbert, who finished with 12 yards on two carries. Austin Ekeler, a dynamic do-it-all back, had 7 yards on six carries. This was a mashing, a good ol’ beatdown that hasn’t been on display in Baltimore since 2000.

No one is putting this defense in that class, especially after allowing 513 yards against Indianapolis. But at least this is a sign the Ravens can improve and possibly complement their high-powered offense and dominant special teams. They don’t need to be a top 10 unit, but one in the top 15 could be enough.


All of the team’s officials were breathing a sigh of relief by Sunday evening as the defense finally turned the corner.

“I think it was really good,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said of the defensive effort. “In the defensive room, we’ve been trying to play four full quarters. There have been many games where we flashed for a quarter, flashed for two quarters, but not four full quarters. So, it’s always been those one or two quarters where we played the way we wanted, but today we just put it all together, and we played as a team.

“This week, we talked about bringing more energy, playing together as one — not one guy making a tackle, two guys making a tackle, angles. It was just the fundamental basics, and I feel like we were getting back to Ravens defense that the Ravens are known for.”

The Chargers entered the game with the No. 7 ranked offense and a passing game that averaged 303 yards. They have a terrific young quarterback in Herbert and two big, standout receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Plus, one of the Ravens’ Achilles heels this season had been covering running backs out of the backfield, and the Chargers had the great check-down combination in Herbert to Ekeler.

But the Chargers couldn’t get anything going. Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale gave the Chargers several new looks and they couldn’t figure it out. Herbert was still scratching his head after the game.

“Yeah, it was a lot of looks that we didn’t see on film and stuff they constructed for us,” he said. “They did a great job at disguising their looks, bringing pressure from one way and hiding from another. It was looks they hadn’t shown all season and stuff that you know we have to be better at to adjust to during the game.”

Yes, the Ravens outcoached them, but the Chargers lacked common sense. A week ago, they beat Cleveland at home, 47-42, in a classic high-scoring game, but they didn’t arrive in Baltimore until late Saturday night for a 1 p.m. contest. That’s almost unheard of and downright stupid considering the time difference from coast to coast.

But this game was determined mainly because the Ravens were just more physical.


Ravens defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Justin Ellis and Justin Madubuike took turns beating up guards Matt Feiler and Michael Schofield III, and even inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made key plays after struggling the last several weeks.

And the Ravens got a lift from veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes, who is slow in coverage but still good in stepping forward, filling gaps and making tackles.

“We knew it was going to be a four-down game, and we felt like if we could put them in a situation where it was a little bit tougher on fourth down than a fourth-and-1, then we have a chance to get a stop. If we got a stop, that would count as a turnover,” Harbaugh said of the Chargers, who were 3-for-12 on third down and 1-for-4 on fourth down. “So, we count those three stops as turnovers. That was our goal, really on defense, and our guys did a great job of it.

“Our team tackled really well. There’s not too many things in football that are fatal flaws. There’s not too much that’s terminal, but there are always going to be things cropping up that you have to address and deal with, and tackling has been one of the things on defense. It’s not just tackling; it’s things that lead to being not in a great position or whatever it might be, and you just keep working on them. You get them fixed, and you go on to the next thing that’s going to come up.”

The coverage in the secondary was as good as it’s been all season. Marlon Humphrey looked like the old Humphrey from a year ago squatting on routes by Williams and Allen. The Ravens stuffed screens and shadowed every short to intermediate route across the middle. Safety Chuck Clark was aggressive near the line of scrimmage and fellow safety DeShon Elliott delivered some tough hits after catches. The Ravens kept everything in front of them except two passes, one of 26 yards to Williams on Los Angeles’ only touchdown drive.

“We have a great team — offensively and defensively,” Elliott said. “When we play together, when we play as a band of brothers, we can be a very great team. Because that team over there is a great team — a great offense, great defense. I just feel like on this day, it’s ‘Any Given Sunday,’ and we were the better team today.”


The challenge is to be consistent. It’s not about playing one great quarter followed by two bad ones or one good game and then two terrible ones. If the Ravens can upgrade this defense to complement their offense, they could be onto something special.

“Complementary football was a great way to say it,” Harbaugh said of the victory. “Special teams with the big returns, defense just played lights out in every way, and offense moved the ball and put the points up. Really, still, all three phases, but we feel like there are things that we can be better at.”