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Baltimore’s Historically Great Run Defense Is Keeping Them Relevant

The Ravens haven't been great on offense, but they haven't had to be because their defense has dominated everyone.

by Rivers McCown
Dec 7 2016, 2:33pm

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens haven't had the best season on offense. They fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman after Week 5, can't seem to run the ball with any consistency, and have watched Joe Flacco's return from a torn ACL go pretty horribly. Even after Sunday's huge performance in a win over the Dolphins, the Ravens are 27th in offensive DVOA. Awesomeness of Steve Smith and things Steve Smith does on the internet aside, there's nothing compelling about watching that unit play. They throw so many high-percentage passes that even Mike Wallace is catching 63 percent of his balls, but none of their receivers are able to do much in space.

But coming into last week's must-win against the Dolphins, the Ravens had one ace up the sleeve: they have one of the best run defenses in modern NFL history.

Yes, they've had a better run defense than the 2000 championship team so far. Better than the Buddy Ryan Eagles. Better than the best of the best of this era.

So when Miami rolled into town with their run-first offense, Baltimore just tipped them over easy. Jay Ajayi and company got 62 yards on the ground. It's been much the same for everyone else they've played. They're the only team to hold Ezekiel Elliott under four yards a carry since Week 3. Oakland's high-powered offense couldn't get a single back over 30 yards against Baltimore. The Bills, with LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor, managed 63 total rushing yards in 24 attempts.

And the craziest thing about it is that Baltimore's run defense actually relies on some pretty inexperienced players. You may know about Terrell Suggs and the talented defensive line of Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams. You may know about C.J. Mosley, the young Pro Bowl linebacker. What you might not know is that they plugged Zach Orr and Albert McClellan into real roles on this defense. McClellan is a 30-year-old mostly-special teamer. Orr had zero starts before this year.

Together, those two have played 1,216 snaps of dynamite defensive football. They've been sound in coverage. And even though Baltimore's non-Jimmy Smith corners are kind of weak, they've been able to mask a lot of it because opposing offenses just don't get close enough to "stay on schedule," and instead have to make big plays happen on third-and-long.

The Ravens aren't going to become a great offense. But this year, where it looks like the NFL is wide-open, one dominant unit has helped them stay tight with the Steelers in the division and could make them a tough out in the playoffs.