Preston: New approach and depth have sparked Ravens defense

Every first-year coordinator wants to put his signature on the playbook, and Don Martindale’s impact can already been seen throughout the Ravens defense.

The Ravens won their 12th consecutive preseason game Saturday night in Miami, which is virtually meaningless unless you’re a new head coach trying to establish a foundation. Veterans such as John Harbaugh want to win, but the emphasis is more on evaluating and developing players, installing schemes, and finding the right chemistry and timing.


It’s hard to get a good read on teams because few are playing their starters, but there is a lot of optimism about the Ravens defense. And there should be. The unit is allowing only 13 points, 79.5 rushing yards and 158.2 passing yards per game.

Now granted, the Ravens haven’t faced a good team yet except for the Los Angeles Rams, who played mostly reserves. Yet there have been enough indications that the Ravens will be better than last season when they had the No. 12-ranked defense in the NFL.


This isn’t a knock on former coordinator Dean Pees, who often was a scapegoat through the years even though Pees never missed a tackle, forgot an assignment or failed to get off a block.

It’s just that Martindale is more aggressive in his approach, a style Harbaugh is familiar with as a longtime assistant in Philadelphia under then-coordinator Jim Johnson.

The Ravens want to bring constant pressure. They’ll blitz, overload a side, and run stunts and twists among the defensive linemen.

Martindale will bring pressure from anywhere on the field under any situation. He has the psyche of former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. He doesn’t give a damn because his style rules.

The Ravens are going to need this type of mentality in 2018. The schedule includes a bunch of marquee quarterbacks such as the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr, Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers.

That’s where it will get interesting. These guys have seen everything. Plus, when a defense brings pressure, there is a weakness somewhere. The best quarterbacks take advantage.

There will be times when it comes down to one-on-one matchups, and the Ravens have improved in that area as well. Before training camp, the Ravens had two proven linebackers in C.J. Mosley (middle) and Terrell Suggs (outside), but third-year player Matthew Judon (strong side) has had a good preseason and seems ready to elevate his game after a solid year in 2017.

Pass-rushing specialist and outside linebacker Tim Williams looks more comfortable this season and is playing faster. He is using his hands better in attempts to get away from pass protectors instead of trying to run around them.


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If nothing else, Williams can reduce the number of snaps played by Suggs, which could keep him fresher at the end of the season.

The Ravens have also showed more odd-man fronts in the preseason, putting Brandon Williams at nose tackle. He might be able to draw one-on-one matchups, but that will also give the Ravens more athleticism at tackle with Brent Urban and Willie Henry.

The loss of starting cornerback Jimmy Smith for the first four games because of a league suspension will hurt. It’s impossible to replace his experience. But the Ravens have depth on the back end, beginning with veteran Brandon Carr and second-year pro Marlon Humphrey. Third-year cornerback Tavon Young can play in the slot or outside, and the team has two promising prospects in rookie Anthony Averett and Maurice Canady.

Both Ravens starting safeties can play near the line of scrimmage and are good in run support, but their ability to play center field and cover the deep ball is questionable. That was and still is a major concern.

The biggest problem is trying to find or wait upon the big playmaker. Who on this defense will make the play in crunch time or is great enough to take over a game? Can a team loaded with depth win big games and go deep into the playoffs without great players?

That’s another answer, which will have to come during the regular season. Right now, though, the Ravens appear to be heading in the right direction.


Martindale has already had major impact.