The Baltimore Ravens have a history of defensive dominance that no other team in the National Football League can rival. Despite this, the defense has struggled over the past few seasons. Long gone are the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and since their departures, the Ravens have failed to capture the same magic once displayed on the field. Last year, the Ravens defense came close to rekindling the fire of years past, but ultimately came up short of absolute dominance. In the first installment in a new series of articles, we examine how the Ravens secondary is poised for dominance in 2018.
Last year the Ravens secondary performed well. The unit placed 10th overall for total passing yards given up per game (213.8), and first overall for total interceptions (22). The secondary also came in second place for opposing quarterback rating. The average rating was 72.4. The overall quality of the secondary has improved since 2015, the first time Baltimore missed the playoffs in the three year postseason drought. In 2015, the Ravens secondary gave up 233.6 passing yards per game and allowed an average QBR of 99.6. The secondary also came in dead last for interceptions in 2015, snagging away just 8 interceptions in 16 games. The Ravens also gave up 30 passing touchdowns in 2015. In contrast, the secondary only allowed passing 18 touchdowns in 2017.
The statistics are evidence of the massive improvement the secondary saw since 2015. In 2015, starting defensive backs included Kyle Arrington, Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, and Rashaan Melvin. Since then, the Ravens have upgraded tremendously, adding players such as Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Tavon Young. All of these additions greatly improved the quality of Baltimore’s secondary, but injuries have often prevented the group from performing at full capacity. Tavon Young missed the entire campaign last year after he tore his ACL in OTAs. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was having the best season of his career, also fell ill to the injury plague. He tore his Achilles late in the season, greatly hindering the ability of the defense.
The Ravens will see the entire secondary returning healthy this offseason, and barring any new injuries, the full secondary will be ready to play by week one. The secondary is also seeing two strong defensive backs return from their rookie seasons with great experience. Marlon Humphrey was a star in his first year out of Alabama. He was second among first-year cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (49.2), just below the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore (45.3). Tavon Young is also effectively coming off his rookie year. He missed his entire sophomore year in Baltimore with the previously mentioned ACL injury but is on track to return to the field in 2018. Both played extremely well in their first years respectively, and enter 2018 poised to improve even further.
While all of this is good news for the Baltimore Ravens, it is not enough to predict dominance in the passing game. The promotion of Don “Wink” Martindale to the defensive coordination position is the key that will unlock greatness for the Baltimore secondary. Martindale is replacing Dean Pees, the longtime defensive coach. Although Pees’ defenses were successful, he was often criticized for the lack of urgency shown in his play-calling style. His signature prevent defense scheme was notorious in Baltimore. The basic strategy of prevent defense is to move defensive backs far back on the field in late game situations, in the hopes of preventing any deep pass play. The scheme rarely seemed to work, however, and was constantly exploited by teams like the Steelers and Bengals in crucial games.
Martindale now turns the page from Dean Pees’ conservative game plan to a much more aggressive style. Martindale wants to incorporate more blitzes and tighter coverage in his defense. This new scheme will give the Ravens secondary many more opportunities to make plays and dismantle opposing air attacks. With the current talent on the roster, there is no reason believe that they won’t take advantage of the new found opportunities. Martindale can also experiment with new roles and assignments for certain defensive backs. Tony Jefferson has typically been placed in the box for most of his career. Under Pees, he moved away from that role and came up with mixed results. Martindale can move Jefferson back into the box, while also taking him out occasionally as he matures as an all-around safety. Overall, the Baltimore Ravens secondary has a chance to not only be great but to dominate on the field. The combination of returning talent and new coaching schemes will give the unit an opportunity most others have never been able to obtain.