After taking a hard look at their defense, the Ravens made life very difficult for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Just six days after struggling to stop the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens shut down one of the NFL's most prolific offenses with a dominant performance. Baltimore had an answer for almost everything the Chargers tried. Justin Herbert, one of the league's top gunslingers, was held to a season-low 195 yards passing. The Chargers' running game (12 carries, 26 yards) was virtually erased.
The Ravens' had several ingredients they didn't have Monday night, most prominently the return of safety DeShon Elliott to the starting lineup, and veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes making his first start of the season. Both players made a significant impact. Elliott returned after a two-game absence with a quad injury and sacked Herbert on a safety blitz and grabbed his first career interception.
Bynes and Anthony Averett tied for the team lead with six tackles, and Bynes' veteran presence next to second-year linebacker Patrick Queen seemed to settle down the front seven. The Colts racked up 513 yards of total offense Monday night, but the Chargers (208) didn't have half that much. Baltimore's pass coverage was tight, and the missed tackles that had been an issue for the Ravens all season were few and far between.
"This is definitely the first game this season where we played complementary football all three phases - special teams, offense, defense - where everybody did their job," Bynes said. "We put up points, and we kept them out of it, and it's a great thing to see.
"I think everybody made the tackles they needed to make. Like I told the guys, 'One play and one series at a time.' Does that mean nobody is going to miss a tackle? I've been playing for 11 years; I'm pretty sure every game there is a missed tackle - at least one. If there's not, I don't know who is keeping the stats. But at the same time, don't let those get in the way of the next play."
The Ravens jumped to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, which helped to put the Chargers in a vice. This is how the Ravens love to play football - grab an early lead, make the opposing team's offense one-dimensional, and allow Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale to dial up a variety of blitzes in obvious passing situations. The Chargers had little success in third down situations (3-for-12) or fourth down situations (1-for-4), as Herbert was forced to throw under duress into tight windows.
Herbert gave credit to Baltimore's game plan. He couldn't get the ball consistently to either of his top receivers - Mike Williams (two catches, 27 yards), who came into the game leading the NFL with six touchdown catches, and Keenan Allen (five catches, 50 yards). The only touchdown for Los Angeles came on a 1-yard pass from Herbert to tight end Jared Cook, on a gift-wrapped two-play drive that was set up by a Lamar Jackson interception. However, the Chargers' longest offensive drive of the game was just 38 yards.
"Yeah, it was a lot of looks that we didn't see on film and stuff they constructed for us," Herbert said. "They did a great job at disguising their looks; bringing pressure from one way and hiding from another. It was looks they hadn't shown all season and stuff that you know we have to be better at to adjust to during the game. But, you know, they played a great game."
The Ravens hope they've found some keys that will help their defense long-term. Elliott gave credit to Bynes for adding his leadership and experience to the unit.
"Josh is an 'OG,'" Elliott said. "We love all the guys we have on our team, but Josh came in and did what he had to do. I just feel like we prepared differently - we prepared a lot better - and we're just going to keep that work [ethic and] keep that going."
Next up for the Ravens is a key AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2), who have another talented young quarterback in Joe Burrow. Watching tape of this game will give Burrow plenty of food for thought. The Ravens hope Sunday's effort was the start of playing defense the way they expect to.
The Ravens entered the game with the 24th-ranked defense in yards and 28th against the pass. Those numbers will look a lot different come Monday morning.
"Shoot, I don't care what they say around the league," Elliott said. "We're going to take this one game at a time, and whoever lines up against us, they're going to get all of it. They're going to get everything we bring to the table."