SEATTLE — The Ravens made a big statement Sunday because they beat a tough team in a place where they had been nearly unbeatable, and they did it with defense.
Let’s hear that one more time. The Ravens did it with defense.
It took seven games into the 2019 season before the Ravens could say that, but a strong defense was the key in the team’s 30-16 upset win against the Seattle Seahawks before an announced 69,012 at CenturyLink Field.
Of course, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will be the talk of the major networks and we will hear the hype about him winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award. That’s all fine and dandy, but it was the defense that has been much-maligned and so darn awful at times that pulled out the game.
The Ravens finally have playmakers on defense. The cornerbacks were aggressive in coverage as leadership emerged. Maybe the Ravens are on to something here.
It’s only one game, but the Ravens held Seattle and quarterback Russell Wilson to 241 passing yards. They got two big plays, one from cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who returned a fumble for an 18-yard touchdown, and the other from newly acquired cornerback Marcus Peters, who intercepted a pass by Wilson and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens haven’t had these kinds of playmakers since safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis left after the Super Bowl win following the 2012 season.
“It’s big,” Humphrey said of the win. “Yeah, I felt like nobody really thought that we could win. There’s not been many games I felt like coming in really my whole career that no one really felt like we could win. Coming here and getting this victory … I know they say the 12-man thing. Texas A&M says that in college, a couple of other schools.
“But as soon as I like came in and they started cheering, I was like, ‘Yo, it’s definitely loud in here.' It didn’t really affect us much on defense, but I think the offense did a great job for how loud it was. To get this win and go into the bye, it was really big.”
Where do we start?
Let’s start with the playmakers. The Ravens now have two top cornerbacks who specialize in press coverage. Few teams have even one. For the first time all year, the Ravens were physical in coverage from the opening whistle until the end. There were times when they could have been called for pass interference but weren’t.
The best part was that they were draped all over Seattle receivers sometimes 20 or 30 yards down the field. Besides Humphrey and Peters, cornerbacks Brandon Carr and safety Chuck Clark also shadowed Seattle receivers closely.
“We definitely were,” Humphrey said of being physical. “We were a little more aggressive, especially in the first half. Caught some zeroes [Cover 0, a scheme with no deep defenders], some all-out blitzes a little bit. We felt like Russell Wilson is just so good in the pocket. You send one extra guy and it really isn’t enough. We felt like we had to send a lot more and give a lot of different looks. I don’t know if we were necessarily more aggressive, but as we were rushing, we just had that in the back of our head.”
There have been times this season when the Ravens were lost in coverages, but that changed Sunday. Safety Earl Thomas III knows the Seahawks well from his time in Seattle but Peters also helped put the Ravens in position.
“Yeah, he was talking. Not talking trash or anything. He was just talking getting the defense lined up. All that type of stuff,” Seattle receiver Tyler Lockett said of Thomas. "Just stuff he did in Seattle, making sure everybody knew what they were doing, knew the adjustments, all those different types of things based off of the plays they probably thought we were going to run. He was trying to put everybody in position to be able to stop what we were doing. "
As a former Los Angeles Ram, Peters played against the Seahawks twice a year.
Humphrey said of Peters: “Oh yeah. Man, MP, when Eric Weddle left, he was a guy who was really vocal every play, saying ‘Look, watch out for this, watch out for this.’ I’ve never been on a team where a corner is doing that. The whole game, MP is telling us, ‘This is coming. This is coming. This is coming. Watch for this.’ I gave up a touchdown early and MP is right there in my ear saying, ‘You good. You’re the best in the game. You’re the best in the game.’
“He was really out there very helpful. That pick-six definitely helped a lot, too. I can’t wait to see the things that he can do for us. He’s already made a pretty good [impact] in the secondary. Great for [general manager Eric] DeCosta to make that trade and give us that boost.”
That type of direction has been missing since Weddle departed in the offseason. The Ravens also got a consistent pass rush on Wilson. They only had one sack but hurried him eight other times.
There were times when Wilson escaped simply because he is Russell Wilson.
But even when he escaped, the Ravens were steady on the backend. Clark played extremely well, especially in run support. He was second on the team in tackles with seven.
But the success wasn’t all on the backend. The Ravens were short on the defensive line but got a big game from nose tackle Brandon Williams, who finished with four tackles but put pressure on Wilson up the middle. Williams was even making tackles 4 or 5 yards down the field.
And then there are the Ravens linebackers. The Ravens cut or traded recent draft picks such as Tim Williams and Kenny Young after a 15-point loss to the Cleveland Browns several weeks ago, but street free agents such as Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have played well.
Bynes finished with a team-high eight tackles and Fort had six. He kept constant pressure on Wilson. Few teams can plug in street free agents and continue to win.
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The Ravens have, and the defense might get on a roll.