Jump to content
ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ravens Insider: How the ‘illusion of pressure’ — and a nifty cornerback blitz — help fuel Ravens’ elite defense


Recommended Posts

On the verge of cementing a playoff victory, the Ravens’ defense crowded the line of scrimmage. It was fourth-and-6, and just before the ball was snapped to Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, seven Ravens hovered inches from Houston’s five offensive linemen.

Within seconds, cornerback Arthur Maulet was lunging at Stroud, forcing him to hurry a pass that fell incomplete. The turnover on downs solidified Baltimore’s 34-10 win Jan. 20 in the divisional round, setting up an appearance in Sunday’s AFC championship game.

On that play, it appeared as if the Ravens’ blitz had overwhelmed the Texans with numbers. But that wasn’t quite the case. The Ravens only brought three pass rushers, with the other four dropping into coverage or acting as a quarterback spy. Three Houston linemen were left blocking no one as Maulet bounded toward Stroud.

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald had once again found the best of both worlds: Quarterback pressure without blitzing several players.

“It’s a team rush mentality,” Macdonald explained Thursday. “Even when we’re rushing four, we want the illusion of pressure a lot of times and just have the threat of blitzing off one side, blitzing off another side, coming up the middle, double edge or bluffing out there. We want that threat to be at all times.

“In order to have that threat, you have to do it, so guys aren’t just calling your bluff all the time.”

Dropping defensive tackles into coverage and blitzing a cornerback can be risky. On that fourth-and-6 look, the Texans had a wide-open receiver who could have scored a 67-yard touchdown. But when it works well, quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball quickly — and often too quickly to make a good decision. Maulet, a 30-year-old journeyman who joined the Ravens this season, rushed the quarterback three times against Houston and was unblocked each time.

“We use it every now and then,” Maulet, who tied a career high with two sacks this season, said of the cornerback blitz. “It works out for us. I think guys do a good job of making me a free runner and getting me open to the quarterback, so I appreciate it.”

The Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is with Roquan Smith before a game against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff photo)
Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, left, greets linebacker Roquan Smith before a game against the Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 31. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Just before the ball is snapped, Maulet — or any blitzer — won’t know if he’ll have a free path to the quarterback. But even if he’s blocked, he expects someone else to be free.

“I feel like it’s effective because teams don’t really expect it,” cornerback Ronald Darby said.

Cornerback blitzes are just one of the tools on Macdonald’s toolbelt as the Ravens have posted the top defense in the NFL this season. They led the league or are tied for the lead in points allowed, turnovers and sacks. In two games against Houston, they did not allow an offensive touchdown. 

They’ll face a true test Sunday in the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions who have appeared in six straight AFC championship games. The Chiefs are known for their creative offense — tight end Travis Kelce has, on several occasions, lateraled to a teammate after a downfield pass — and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, seems to always manufacture magic.

“He puts his pants on just like any other quarterback,” linebacker Roquan Smith said of Mahomes. “Yes, he’s an elite quarterback, but at the end of the day, we’re an elite defense, and that’s our job — to stop the opposing offense.”

To Smith’s point, the Ravens’ defense is creative in its own right, masking its formations and using players in varied roles. Look no further than that fourth-and-6 look, when 305-pound defensive lineman and leading pass rusher Justin Madubuike dropped into coverage as the 190-pound Maulet sprinted toward the quarterback.

Asked for more insight into what makes the Ravens’ blitzing so effective, Maulet kept his cards close.

“Secrets, man,” he said with a smile. “We got two more games — I’ll tell you after.”

View the full article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Create New...