Getty Images

Throughout this season, a lot of attention has been dedicated to the Baltimore Ravens' offense. With a new coordinator in Todd Monken and a plethora of new weapons for Lamar Jackson in Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor, Keaton Mitchell, and more, it makes sense that the unit has been the subject of such fascination -- especially in the weeks since tight end Mark Andrews went down with a probable season-ending injury. 

But Baltimore's defense might actually be better than its offense. The Ravens check in second in FTN's defensive DVOA, and they also have the second-ranked defense by both yards and points per game. By Tru Media's EPA/play, they've been the league's second-best unit overall, checking in 14th against the run and fourth against the pass. 

The talent level on this unit is obviously very high, with stars like Roquan Smith, Kyle Hamilton, Justin Madubuike, and (when healthy) Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Williams. But they way they're deployed by defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald on a week-to-week and even snap-to-snap basis also plays into how tough it is to move the ball and/or score points against the Ravens. 

Via Tru Media, this is Baltimore's coverage type breakdown for each game this season. We've highlighted the most-common coverage from each game in bold, as well as the least common (among the non-Cover-0 options, since 0 is a blitz package as much as a coverage) in italics. As you can see, there has been quite a bit of variety.


Macdonald has also wildly varied his blitz rate from week to week depending on the opponent. The Ravens sent extra rushers on only 11.6% of Joe Burrow's dropbacks back in Week 2, per Tru Media, then ramped it up to 51% the next week against the Colts. And when the played the Browns the following week, they were back down to a 14% blitz rate. (They barely got any pressure on Burrow in that Week 2 game, recording a sack, hit, or hurry on just 16.7% of his dropbacks. But they have been above 31.4% in every other game this season, and exceeded a 40% rate in seven of their 13 contests. This despite not employing a single player that anyone would describe as a "star" edge rusher.) Those types of bespoke game plans have been the norm for Macdonald.

The Ravens are able to change their coverage schemes and pass defense strategies so often because they have so many versatile players -- particularly in the secondary. Each of their primary safeties (Hamilton, Williams, and Geno Stone) has played a double-digit share of his snaps in the box, as a free safety, and in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Brandon StephensCB138840.2%5.7%1.6%2.8%89.7%
Patrick QueenLB138738.2%80.6%0.6%9.9%0.7%
Roquan SmithLB138724.9%90.1%0.2%4.5%0.2%
Kyle HamiltonS138265.6%22.2%29.9%42.3%0.1%
Geno StoneS137302.6%13.6%71.5%11.4%1.0%
Justin MadubuikeDI1359599.5%0.5%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Michael PierceDI1352199.6%0.4%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Jadeveon ClowneyED1350699.6%0.4%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Marcus WilliamsS74051.5%18.5%63.5%16.0%0.5%
Marlon HumphreyCB73950.8%6.3%0.5%0.8%91.6%
Ronald DarbyCB93470.0%2.9%0.0%1.7%95.4%
Kyle Van NoyED1034196.2%2.6%0.0%0.6%0.6%
Odafe OwehED933099.1%0.9%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Broderick WashingtonDI12320100.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Travis JonesDI13320100.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Arthur MauletCB113062.0%7.5%0.0%85.9%4.6%

But the front is also versatile. Among the 10 players who have gotten at least 100 snaps along the defensive line this season, five of them (Jadeveon Clowney, Odafe Oweh, Kyle Van Noy, Tavius Robinson, and Malik Harrison) have been used almost exclusively on the edge. But the other five have moved around quite a bit. Each of Madubuike, Michael Pierce, Broderick Washington, Travis Jones, and Brent Urban has lined up in multiple different gaps on at least 20% of his snaps. (As long as we round up for Jones, who has been in the A-Gap 19.7% of the time.) 

Justin MadubuikeDI135922.2%59.0%33.1%5.7%
Michael PierceDI1351921.0%73.4%5.0%0.6%
Jadeveon ClowneyED135040.0%0.2%2.8%97.0%
Odafe OwehED93270.0%0.3%0.0%99.7%
Broderick WashingtonDI123205.0%64.1%21.3%9.7%
Travis JonesDI1332019.7%75.6%2.8%1.9%
Kyle Van NoyED103280.0%0.0%0.0%100.0%
Tavius RobinsonED132730.0%0.7%3.3%96.0%
Brent UrbanDI131890.0%43.9%24.9%31.2%
Malik HarrisonLB111450.0%0.0%0.0%100.0%

This type of versatility on both the back end and the front is enviable, and allows the Ravens to change the picture for opposing offenses. Disguises and late rotations are some of the best ways to confuse opposing quarterbacks, and the Ravens do a better job of that than almost any other team in the league. 

A few weeks back, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson described exactly that issue as being a problem for offenses playing against the Ravens, as well as something that helps his own unit: "Not trying to toot our own horn, but I believe our defense has no weakness," Jackson said during a media availability, according to RavensWire. "Just from the defensive line, the linebackers, the secondary, how they're flying around and disguising defenses -- making it look like one coverage, but it's something else -- and how they time up their blitzes, it helps us out a lot, because when we're playing other teams, they're flying around and giving us their best shot. It's like we're seeing one of the best defenses every day."

While they may not necessarily be perfect like Jackson says, there is no denying that the Ravens do have one of the NFL's best and most uniquely challenging defenses to face. When they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday Night Football this coming weekend (8:20 p.m. EST on NBC), the entire football-watching world will get to see exactly why.