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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ravens defense- yeah, it's complicated


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A nice read for the slight layoff until the next game


OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The comparisons to the Baltimore Ravens’ 2000 defense, one of the greatest in league history, were premature. But the 2023 version of Baltimore’s defense, through the first 10 games, is worthy of its own praise.

Having a second season in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s system has been an obvious – yet important – difference, players say.

He’s got a somewhat complicated scheme," safety Kyle Hamilton told USA TODAY Sports. "But he’s done a great job drilling it down and making it simple for us."

Hamilton, himself more accustomed as a second-year player, was the poster player of the Ravens’ transition from longtime defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale – now with the New York Giants – to Macdonald, who was a first-time NFL coordinator in 2022. In Week 2 of that season, it was Hamilton being beat deep by the Miami Dolphins that was the visual representation of their late-game collapse.

Fast forward to Week 10 of this season against the Cleveland Browns, and it was Hamilton who crept up to the line of scrimmage, blitzed and tipped a Deshaun Watson pass straight up into the air to come down with it and score on the second play of the game.

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Having defenders know how to do multiple things and play in different spots – especially for a 6-foot-4 safety like Hamilton – are all parts of Macdonald’s philosophy.

I think it always keeps the offense on their toes, and I think allows us to make plays in different areas and show our versatility," Hamilton said.

Players have to keep up with the wrinkles Macdonald and his staff devise each week, edge rusher Odafe Oweh said.

"I also think guys are just getting more comfortable with the scheme and the defense," Oweh said. "Mike had all this stuff last year, too. Guys are just learning plays and being more skillful in certain positions.

In 2023, the Ravens enter a “Thursday Night Football” matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals allowing the fewest yards per play (4.2) of any team. Despite giving up 27 points – the offense was responsible for a pick-six that was followed by a missed extra point – in a 33-31 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Baltimore still has the top scoring defense in the NFL (15.7 points per game). The unit is third in sack rate (9.51%) with a league-best 39, and the 17.3 first downs the group allows per contest also ranks third.

Macdonald's defense found its groove in the second half of 2022. After a Week 9 trade with the Chicago Bears for inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the Ravens allowed 14.9 points per game, the second-best mark in the league. Baltimore finished third in rushing defense (92.1 yards per game).

During the offseason, Macdonald said the defensive coaches talked about “having a clear vision of what we wanted to get to.”

So, it crystallized a little bit in how we were coaching it and our methods and how to do it," Macdonald said. "I think it was clear, and the staff has been awesome on how we’ve worked together on how we want to do it and how you go about executing it. So, the logistics of everything is just a lot smoother the second time around."

Of course, players need to buy into what the coaches are teaching. Thirteen players have registered sacks – an overrated metric in Macdonald’s mind, because there are more accurate ways to calculate the effectiveness of a pass rush. Veterans Kyle Van Noy (16 quarterback pressures) and Jadeveon Clowney (five sacks) have contributed despite not being with the team for most of the offseason. Safety Geno Stone, not a starter at the outset of the season, leads the league in interceptions with six.

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Hopefully in this short bye week not only is the defense getting some rest, but also studying how to keep the edge.

Teams have been killing them running on the edge, usually to the defense's left.

Fix that, fix staying in your rush lane against mobile quarterbacks, and while this team is leading the league in sacks, if there was a Stat for missed sacks, they might be leading there as well. So relearn how to sack a qb, how to wrap up 😀

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