The Baltimore Ravens defense are thriving at the start of the 2023 season, continuing their impressive form from the back end of 2022. While the Houston Texans have a rookie quarterback and the Cincinnati Bengals have seemed lacklustre, it remains true that the Baltimore defense’s class has shone through despite some key injuries.
Prior to the start of the season, it was revealed that cornerstone defensive back Marlon Humphrey had suffered an injury that would force him to miss the start of the year. With the position group already thin prior to the All Pro’s injury, his inevitable absence seemed a daunting scenario for Ravens fans before the start of the season.
The Ravens luck did not improve after the commencement of the 2023 regular season, however, as key safety Marcus Williams went down in Week 1. While there have been positive signs regarding his timeline to return, losing two key playmakers in the secondary would cripple most defensive backfields.
Week 2 did not mark the end of the injury woes. Odafe Oweh went down with an ankle injury and left Paycor Stadium in a walking boot. John Harbaugh said that Oweh was dealing with an ankle sprain, meaning the former first-round pick could miss some time too.
While those have been the headliners, the depth has taken some hits too. Ar’Darius Washington was recently placed on IR. Malik Hamm and Damarion Williams have also been on the IR since the start of the season. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser is on the NFI list.
Despite a wide plethora of injuries, the Ravens defense has been beyond solid so far. Sportsnaut’s Matt Johnson currently has them ranked as the NFL’s sixth best defense. Their success has largely come down to strength in depth, schematics and, of course, an abundance of elite talent.
Baltimore’s defensive unit will look to continue its good form in Week 3 against a banged-up Indianapolis Colts side. As Humphrey and Williams return, expect the Ravens defense to improve even more through the 2023 season.
How the Baltimore Ravens Defense Have Maintained Elite Form in 2023 Amidst Adversity
Mike MacDonald’s Magic
The understated mastermind of Baltimore’s juggernaut defense is Mike MacDonald, the incumbent defensive coordinator. MacDonald, 36, is now in his second year of calling the team’s defense.
Over the first two games of the season, MacDonald has been more adventurous in his playcalling. While he sticks to a rigid split-safety coverage, the perceived dogmatic formation is merely a way to disguise coverages and blitzes.
Kyle Hamilton stood out as the team’s starting slot corner down the stretch of last season. However, this year, MacDonald has opened the playbook up. Hamilton has lined up all over the place and been effectively used to mask defensive playcalls. MacDonald’s effective deployment of Hamilton has been crucial to giving the Ravens defense more fluidity and versatility.
Hamilton is not the only chess piece that MacDonald has been toying with, however. ESPN’s Mina Kimes recently gave rave reviews on MacDonald’s use of the “best linebacker duo” in the league. Kimes observed that much of the Bengals’ offensive struggles in Week 2 were down to the “disguise and chaos” caused in the front seven by MacDonald’s “weaponized” linebackers. Stunts, fake blitzes, mixed coverages and delayed rushes were all part of the huge arsenal that MacDonald deployed upon Joe Burrow and the Bengals offensive line.
MacDonald drew some attention at the end of 2022. However, in 2023, he has shown that his elite defense can remain consistent. Will Baltimore be able to keep MacDonald a secret? Or is he destined for a head coaching job in the near future? Peter Schrager’s nomination of MacDonald as Week 2’s coach of the week suggests that the latter is likely, despite MacDonald being just 36.
"Injuries everywhere. No problem. The Ravens D found a way." pic.twitter.com/bjVK4UFGkm
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) September 18, 2023
Top Tier Talent
Needless to say, MacDonald would not be even half as successful without the elite talent that the Ravense defense has in 2023.
There are the recognizable household names of Hamilton and Roquan Smith. Both of these players have been crucial to the Ravens defensive success. Smith singlehandedly elevated the Ravens defense last season and is now the green dot carrier this season. His leadership has been key to gelling the unit together.
However, beyond Hamilton and Smith, the Ravens are also enjoying the renaissance of Jadeveon Clowney, the mini breakout of Oweh and the new evolution of Patrick Queen.
With an abundance of talent, MacDonald has been able to play to the defense’s strengths to minimize the impact of Humphrey and Williams’ absences. That is why Baltimore have been so focused on rushing the passer and stopping the run.
Indeed, in Week 2, the Ravens defense was so good up front that, on average, Burrow was only allowed 2.05 seconds to throw per attempt.
Baltimore Ravens pressure leaders this season:
Odafe Oweh – 8 pressures (12.2% win rate)
Jadeveon Clowney – 7 pressures (9.7%)
Justin Madubuike – 5 pressures (9.1%)
Michael Pierce – 3 pressures (8.9%)
Broderick Washington – 2 pressures (10.5%)
— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) September 20, 2023
Shrewd Additions and Strength in Depth
The final thing to note is Baltimore’s ability to replace their absentees with strong backups or shrewd additions. Clowney was one such example of a cheap, low-risk signing that has panned out excellently so far.
The team’s acquisition of Ronald Darby was also smart, following Humphrey’s injury. Arthur Maulet was another cheap signing that has impressed the coaching staff. He is expected to be the starting nickel back in place of Washington.
However, perhaps more importantly, the Ravens have nurtured a lot of in-house talent effectively. This has meant that Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone have stepped into starting roles seamlessly. Stone, in particular, was impressive against the Bengals as he halted a jubilant Cincinnati drive with a crucial interception.
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