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Preston: Before you start booking a Super Bowl trip, consider the play of the Ravens defense

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 42-21 win over the New York Jets.

The Ravens captured the AFC North title Thursday night. They blew out the New York Jets, quarterback Lamar Jackson set NFL and team records and their chances of going to the Super Bowl have become as good as any team in the league, including the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints.

But the Ravens defense still concerns me.

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Of the 21 points they gave up to the Jets, six came from a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, but this defense is not ironclad. They entered the game ranked No. 6 overall and against the run, but the Ravens aren’t as dominant as they look.

Maybe their offense is so high-octane and Jackson is so great that they don’t need a dominant defense, but the Buffalo Bills had receivers running wide-open a week ago and the Jets did again Thursday. If both teams had better quarterbacks, and maybe an upgrade or two on the offensive line, I’d be more concerned. But the Kansas City Chiefs can match the Ravens offense.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite playing rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges, will always play the Ravens tough, even in a parking lot.

“I thought the whole team played well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Thursday. “There are definitely some things we’re going to look at. On defense, we’re not going to be in love with everything we see.”

The Ravens defense certainly isn’t as bad as it was in the beginning of the season, when receivers were running around uncontested and the team was ranked near the bottom of the NFL, but second-year quarterback Sam Darnold (18-for-32 for 218 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) had decent success, and receivers Robby Anderson, Vyncint Smith and Jamison Crowder made the Ravens cornerbacks look slow and sluggish.

And if Bills quarterback Josh Allen had been able to complete four long passes in the first half of last Sunday’s game, there might have been a different outcome.

What’s happened?

Marlon Humphrey continues to play well, but fellow cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith appear slow, content to keep everything in front of them instead of being aggressive. For the second straight week, the Ravens missed a lot of tackles on the backend.

Safety Chuck Clark has made a difference as far as signal-calling, and he can play deep center field, but Earl Thomas III can’t. He’s firm in run support but not dropping into coverage.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink" Martindale has been able to generate pressure without a pass rush, one of the team’s major weaknesses, with a lot of different fronts and blitzes, but the Ravens had trouble getting to Darnold in the first half, even though New York had a banged-up offensive line.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was a steady force, but that constant pressure wasn’t there.

Jackson and the Ravens offense have been able to hide a lot of problems. The Ravens are No. 1 in rushing offense and ran for 218 yards Thursday night. They are No. 1 in points scored, averaging 33.1 per game, and they put up 42 on the Jets.

But when the Ravens don’t get a big lead and have to stay in their base defense for long periods of time, they struggle. Their front seven is average, even though they have two tough run-stoppers in the middle in tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce. But even those two struggled against the Jets, which might be expected after a short week of rest and a physical game against the Bills.

It’s impossible for a team to play well every week in all three phases. Against the Jets, the Ravens special teams, especially the cover units, were extremely poor. But that’s an aberration. That’s the case now with the offense, especially with players like Jackson, running back Mark Ingram II, tight end Mark Andrews and even rookie receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown when he is completely healthy.

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But the defense worries me, especially in the postseason. There are holes and problems that still exist. They aren’t as glaring, but they are still there.

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