As well as the Ravens were able to handcuff Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi to only 23 yards on 13 carries – and that included a 21-yard run on the second play of a 40-0 dismantling on Oct. 26 – the run defense moved up only two spots to No. 30 in the NFL rankings.
That’s why outside linebacker Terrell Suggs pumped the brakes on the unit’s performance with Sunday’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans’ rushing pair of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry on the horizon.
“It’s always a challenge,” Suggs said Wednesday. “I don’t know what we’re ranked this week. I know going into last week, we were ranked 32nd. So we’ve got our work cut out for the rest of the year. With this duo, it’s definitely going to test us to see if we got some of the leakage stopped and some of the problems fixed. So it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Murray, the every-game starter, has produced a team-best 372 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries. But Henry, the organization’s second-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, is not that far behind with 331 yards and two scores on 75 attempts.
Murray and Henry are one of only three duos that rank in the Top 25 in the league in rushing. (The other two are the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeGarrette Blount and Ajayi — who was traded to the Eagles this week —and the Ravens’ Alex Collins and Buck Allen.)
Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley said the easiest misinterpretation is to assume that the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Murray and 6-3, 247-pound Henry are between-the-tackles ball carriers.
“Even though they are big backs, they definitely pop a lot of runs out on the perimeter,” said Mosley, who leads the NFL in solo tackles with 51. “That is one of the things that we have to work on. What kind of hurt us at the beginning of the season were perimeter runs – runs getting outside of us on the edge. We did a great job of that this past Thursday [with] setting the edge on the outside and everybody staying square inside.”
What does not need to be emphasized is that bringing down Murray and Henry the first time will be a significant priority for the defense.
“Everybody else definitely has to run to the ball and gang-tackle a guy because they are good at spinning off tackles, and they both have really good stiff-arms,” Mosley said. “Play your technique, set the edge, everybody run to the ball, and we should have a chance.”