Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson will be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV next month. He expects to see the Ravens there, too.
The 11-time Pro Bowl selection, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens during his four years in Baltimore, said he’s picking a Ravens-San Francisco 49ers rematch, especially after the New Orleans Saints’ loss Sunday in the NFC’s wild-card round.
“I don’t see any one of those teams beating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC,” he said. “And I really don’t see any of the teams in the AFC upsetting the cart in Baltimore and the way they’ve done things throughout the whole year.”
Woodson, 54, whose work with On Location Experiences will take him to a pregame party on Feb. 2 with several other ex-NFL stars in Miami, spoke Monday with The Baltimore Sun about star quarterback Lamar Jackson’s sudden rise, the Ravens’ aggressive defense and why cornerback Marcus Peters is a good fit in Baltimore. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Ravens have become the story of the NFL, and Lamar Jackson is likely going to win MVP honors. How unique of a season is this, and what can you say about Lamar that hasn’t already been said?
Well, it’s not just Lamar. You’ve got to talk about [coach] John Harbaugh and, really, [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman kind of redoing this whole offense within a year — really, within the offseason — and implementing something that brings out the best in Lamar. I think that’s the key for coaches in the National Football League. They’ve got to run a system hopefully that their players thrive in, and you’re not trying to feed them a system that they’re not comfortable with.
I think John, bringing in Greg Roman, knowing that the system that was there was more suited for Joe Flacco — them bringing the system in where you get that inverted wishbone and stay more in that two-tight end set ... that puts a lot of pressure on the defense, just for the fact that you don’t see that stuff consistently a lot, unless you’re in short yardage. But they’ll do it on first-and-10, second-and-long.
They’ll do those same type of formations, and one thing that it does when they run that inverted wishbone or run those options is that that makes the defense, across the league, they have to be very disciplined. Who’s going to take the pitch? Who’s going to take the dive? You don’t see that on a daily basis, and that’s why, a lot of times, when you’re not comfortable with it, when you don’t see it that often, they’ve been making some of these NFL defenses look like they’re a college team.
There’s no one single factor that’s allowing this offense to thrive like it has, but how much can you attribute it to the Ravens taking advantage of the fact that this is a league that’s, by and large, built to stop pass offenses and not really handle smashmouth running attacks like the Ravens have?
Like I said, you don’t see that on a consistent basis. But when they play within their division, when they play the Steelers, when they play the Browns, even Cincinnati, those games are a little bit closer at times, even this past year, so they’re a little bit more familiar with them.
It is a passing league. Listen, Lamar Jackson is a difference-maker. I don’t think every NFL team can run this offense. Even if you have a running quarterback, I don’t think [Kansas City Chiefs star] Patrick Mahomes — he doesn’t fit into this offense, because he’s not a running quarterback like that. Josh Allen [of the Buffalo Bills] wouldn’t be able to be in this offense because he’s not a running quarterback like Lamar.
Lamar is quick. He makes tremendous plays in small spaces. And then bringing in [running back] Mark Ingram II, he fits the mold of what the Ravens are. The Ravens are very similar to the Steelers in the sense that they’re a blue-collar football team. They’re normally led by their defense, which did become a better defense as the season went on under “Wink” [coordinator Don Martindale]. Those guys, I think, as a whole, this is a solid football team, and the offense is led by a young quarterback that the NFL’s not used to seeing.
As you mentioned, this Ravens defense has really come on strong. After losing pass rushers like Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in the offseason, they really recommitted to investing in their secondary, bringing in Earl Thomas and trading for Marcus Peters at the deadline. What do you make of a defense that’s built on a secondary that can lock up wide receivers long enough to let that pass rush get to quarterback?
We say that, but they’re, I think, the fourth-ranked or the fifth-ranked rush defense in the National Football League. We say they did it by bringing in well-known [players]. We know Earl Thomas. We know the Jimmy Smiths, we know the Marcus Peters of the world.
A lot of people who don’t watch football, they don’t know who [Matthew] Judon is. They don’t know [Chris] Wormley. They don’t know those type of players for the Baltimore Ravens because they’re not household names, but their defense up front is a solid defense.
Wink gives a lot of exotic looks. I think he’s done a wonderful job of showing one thing and giving the offense something else, and guys are coming, at times, scot-free to the quarterback. And the great thing about the back end, talking about the secondary, is that when you have a pass rush, that’s your best friend as a cover guy. You can’t cover forever. I don’t care how great a player you might be. You just can’t cover forever, so what Don has done and the different looks he’s given people, it’s been posing some problems for offenses they’ve faced. I think that secondary’s been thriving on it.
Either during your playing days or when you were coaching the Oakland Raiders last decade, would it have been conceivable to you that there would be a defense blitzing on over half of its plays like the Ravens are?
I love it. I love the aggressive nature of Don. Two things: ... I love bringing pressure on the quarterback, because as a quarterback takes a snap of the ball and he’s dropping back in his three-step or his five-step — and if he’s in shotgun, it’s going to be more like a two-step — he’s trying to decipher what’s going on. He’s trying to decipher who’s coming, who’s not coming.
And when you put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, you’re speeding up that process. Most quarterbacks in the National Football League can’t handle it, and we’ve seen this year, with the Baltimore Ravens, they’ve thrived on that. So I love that. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, Don, as a human being, he’s aggressive in his life, and a lot of times, if you get an aggressive coach who just lives life and he’s a jolly person, he’s a Type A-personality guy, he’s going to call a more aggressive game. But then if you find a guy who’s a little bit more passive in his life, he’s going to call more of a passive game. So that’s why I like those coordinators, especially on the defensive side, who are very aggressive. I like those Type A-personality players or people who become defensive coordinators, because they bring out that same nature in how they call the game.
With the Ravens locking up Marcus Peters long term, it’s clear they like how he’s fit in in the locker room and certainly on the field. He had bounced around a little bit before ending up in Baltimore. What does it say about the Ravens’ culture that he’s found a home here?
I think, first of all, Marcus is a tremendous talent. He went to the University of Washington. Things happened at the University of Washington, and some of the things that happened, I don’t blame him. ...
But as a player, when he got to Kansas City, he was a baller. I just think that when he got to the [Los Angeles] Rams, I think they played him a little different. He will press, but he’s not a real press man. He likes playing with his eyes. He likes deciphering the offense. He likes seeing formations, and then he believes what he sees and he’ll jump that route.
That’s how he plays, and I think the one thing that’s comfortable is that the Baltimore Ravens have a culture and they have a standard. And I’m really proud of how that standard’s come about. I know when I got there in ’98, it wasn’t very good. But it grew in those first four years, and then Ray [Lewis] and Ed Reed and all those other guys, they made it to a higher standard. And you have to live upon that standard.
And I think the guys who are living in that locker room, they take it upon themselves to police the locker room and police their own players, and that’s when you get a good football team. And I think that standard hasn’t left. Those guys policing the locker room on their own hasn’t left, so I think this is a good blend for Marcus Peters because he’s going to be held accountable if he does something wrong, if he says something wrong.
Guys will say, “Hey, we don’t that do that here. Maybe at the other place you’re at, you can do that, you can say that. But here, we act a certain way. We’re going to represent this team a certain way. But when we go out on the field, we’re going to ball out.”
Can you tell me about your role with On Location Experiences?
I enjoy it because I have the opportunity to engage with guests and be able to share my experiences in the National Football League. I remember last year, we were there [at the Super Bowl], and I went to a room, and we’re talking to a guy with our group of people, and they were just asking me tidbits about the Super Bowl experience, the week leading up to it, what the body’s feeling like in the morning, are you overly excited — those type of things that they don’t get on a daily basis.
They don’t get to talk to somebody who experienced it. For me, three times I’ve gone to the Super Bowl. So those type of things, engaging with the fans in my life today and giving those experiences to them, it benefits me, but it’s one of those things, I think, that is different from the other sports. The NFL goes around, and the On Location Experiences are consistent throughout the year. This is my third year doing it.
I think it’s extremely fun to be around the fan base, and Dan Marino, Marcus Allen and Joe Theismann, those guys are also going to be here at this On Location Experience. ... Those type of guys being in those type of rooms, they make it fun, they make a great experience, and if you’re going to your first Super Bowl or your second Super Bowl, meeting not only legends of the game but Hall of Famers is something that you normally don’t do.