During the Miami Dolphins' recent six-game winning streak, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had completed more than 67 percent of his passes for 1,302 yards, with nine touchdowns and just one interception. But four of the teams Miami had defeated had pass defenses ranked 15th in the NFL or worse.
So how would Tannehill fare against the Ravens' No. 6 unit? Not very well, judging by Sunday's 38-6 whooping at M&T Bank Stadium.
Tannehill (226 yards) tied a career worst with three interceptions and was sacked twice, and although he completed 29 of his 40 passes, he averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt, his third-lowest total of the season.
"We just played fundamental defense," said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who made his first start since missing the previous two games because of a back injury. "We really didn't know what kind of game plan they would come in with because they change their game concepts every week. We just studied the quarterback, their tendencies on what they like to run and, yes, they came out with a new game plan today. But we were in the right place at the right time."
The defense's success was two-pronged. Although the Ravens got only a pair of sacks, from rookie outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive end Brent Urban, they registered nine quarterback hits on Tannehill. Judon said that pressure can lead a quarterback to get rid of the ball a little quicker than expected.
"We want to be an aggressive defense, and we want to get after the passer after he drops back, and the result of that was he made some errant throws," he said. "He didn't see the coverage because we disguised it, and we've got some playmakers in our secondary, people that go get the ball. So we just want to continue to play well and play together."
The Ravens also changed up coverages on Tannehill, showing man-to-man before shifting to zone, and vice versa. Smith said the defense was so unpredictable that Tannehill didn't know whether the Ravens were in a Cover 1 or Cover 2 alignment.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he was so cognizant of where Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry lined up, he sometimes had an additional safety lining up over the top of Tannehill's favorite target. But the rest of the defensive strategy involved mixing coverages so that Tannehill could not get too comfortable with a certain look.
"We just changed up some coverages and stuff on him," Pees said. "We did a pretty good job of changing up the fronts and rush. They got us on a couple runs. Coach [Adam] Gase did a nice job of doing a couple scheme things that we had to adjust to, and we adjusted, but it hurt us early on. But I think we did a good job changing up the coverages. We ran a lot of different coverages at him today."
All three of Tannehill's interceptions resulted from poor decisions. Free safety Lardarius Webb said that before his second-quarter interception, Tannehill locked in on wide receiver DeVante Parker, which made it easier for Webb to beat Parker to a spot in the end zone.
Tannehill's interception early in the third quarter came after he threw behind Landry. Nickel back Jerraud Powers tipped the ball, and strong safety Eric Weddle returned the pick 53 yards to Miami's 45-yard line.
And in the fourth quarter, Tannehill severely underthrew wide receiver Kenny Stills on a route toward the right sideline, and Powers came up with the interception.
"I didn't make good decisions," Tannehill said. "It was something different on every one. We moved the ball very well on our first two drives, and then something happened. Landry fell down on a third-down play, and then we missed the field goal. On the next drive, their safety made a great play on the interception in the end zone. When you're playing a good team on the road, you need to capitalize."
With Smith's return, the secondary had its top three cornerbacks in Smith, rookie Tavon Young and Powers. It also meant that Webb would not have to shift to nickel back and Matt Elam would not have to spell Webb at free safety.
"I was playing, no matter what, this week," Smith said. "I was playing. I've got to get back in to get into the swing of things, and then we've got the [New England] Patriots next week. I wanted to be ready to go for that game."
The unit was grateful for Smith's return. "It's big time," Webb said. "When you get your lockdown corner, it helps out a lot. He came back and did his thing."
The defense's next significant test will come against quarterback Tom Brady and New England's dangerous but Rob Gronkowski-less aerial attack Monday night. It's a challenge the Ravens welcome.
"We have a standard around here that we want to be No. 1. We're going to strive for that," inside linebacker Zachary Orr said. "We did some good things, but we can get a lot better."