For years, this team hasn’t been able to get a consistent pass rush, especially in big games against quality opponents, but the Ravens dominated the Chargers and pounded quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Ravens have been ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 defense in the NFL for most of the season, but defenses don’t become great until they can get pressure with their front four.
The Ravens achieved that Saturday night. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith won their individual matchups with Los Angles offensive tackles Russell Okung and Sam Tevi.
“We’re going to look at our protection and see what happened there,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “They got after us pretty good up front.”
Said Lynn of Rivers: “He was under a lot of stress. It wasn’t just one guy. I think they were taking turns. He was under a lot of stress today.”
They used finesse instead of power, beating them off the ball and dropping their shoulders for leverage. With Rivers stuck in the middle of the pocket, the Ravens collapsed it on the inside with tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce.
Williams and Pierce, known as run-stoppers, have faced criticism for their lack of pass-rushing ability. Maybe that changed Saturday night. Pierce might be the best linemen on the roster right now.
When a team can get pressure on a quarterback with its front four, it changes the dynamics. The Ravens don’t have to blitz as much. Inside linebackers can get deeper drops in coverage, which the Ravens were able to do Saturday night.
The Ravens still had their share of blitzes, with linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, but they were just mixing things up to get to Rivers, not because it was a necessity. The Ravens finished with four sacks, with two of those from Onwuasor and 1½ from Smith.
Every group on this Ravens defense played well Saturday night. They held one of the league’s top passing offenses to 147 yards and the Chargers had only 198 yards of total offense.
Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey smothered receivers Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams. The only touchdown the Ravens allowed was a gift after a fumble by running back Kenneth Dixon deep inside Baltimore territory on the Ravens’ first offensive play of the second half.
The Ravens simply pounded Los Angeles into submission. They made almost every tackle in the open field as safety Tony Jefferson zeroed in on the Chargers with some vicious hits. Los Angeles’ 198 yards of total offense were its fewest since 2014.
The Ravens have had strong defensive efforts this season, including against the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons, but this one was complete and overpowering. It came against a powerful offense on the road playing against a team with a three-day advantage in preparation.
The Ravens also had to travel to the West Coast.
”It was huge,” Rivers said of the Ravens’ pressure. “I give them credit. They did some good things up front, they did some good things in the secondary. We did all right at times, we just couldn’t sustain anything for the most part. Our only touchdown was on a short field off a great play from our defense. We just couldn’t get going. That’s why I said, credit to them.”