A quiet reality of this season’s Ravens roster was that the defense had lost significant pieces that would be quite hard to replace, regardless of how they drafted or approached free agency with finding replacements in mind. The reason behind the low volume on that issue had a lot to do with Baltimore’s schedule. Even with the Cardinals outperforming their expectations, the first two weeks saw the defense serve as a solid tool to keep giving the ball to Lamar Jackson. Week 3 also didn’t result in any raised eyebrows because, well, there’s no defense capable of stopping Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs—save for the Patriots in the postseason.
All of this is to say that the Ravens have no excuse to not be at least a little concerned about the quality of their defense. In a week where the team absolutely needed to make a statement, they instead allowed Nick Chubb to put together arguably the best rushing performance Baltimore has allowed in franchise history. According to Pro Football Reference, Chubb’s 165 yards was the fourth-most the Ravens have ever given up, putting him behind Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk (192) and Terrell Davis (192) as well as Jordan Howard (167). Chubb’s three scores ties him for the most rushing touchdowns scored against the Ravens in history, a feat that had not been accomplished in nearly 17 years: Deuce McAllister last did it in 2002, with only 127 yards, while former Dolphin Karim Abdul-Jabbar—yes, really—did it in 1997 with a total 108 yards rushing.
It helped that the Browns’ O-line played significantly better against the Ravens than they did against the Rams last week, but even more helpful was a seemingly conscious decision from Baltimore to forget how to tackle.
On his second score, Chubb employed the tried and true “don’t let the defenders get close enough to catch you” strategy, which the Ravens also helped out with by not getting to the edge with any urgency:
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In both of these cases, the presence of departed players like Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley (Jets), last season’s sacks leader Za’Darius Smith (Packers), and veterans Terrell Suggs (Cardinals) and Eric Weddle (Rams) could have, at the very least, helped direct the defense in a way that would have made Cleveland’s run game less effective. Instead, those players are all elsewhere, and the defense instead gave Chubb a career-defining game.
This was perhaps most clear right after the Ravens cut the Browns’ lead down from 14 to six points on a touchdown and two-point conversion combo. All Baltimore needed was just a stop—not even a three-and-out—so that they could get the ball back and allow Lamar Jackson to attempt a comeback. The good news was that the defense got the ball back to the offense in one play. The bad news was that it was because Chubb ran the ball in for an 88-yard touchdown.
This was the kind of punch in the mouth for the Ravens that made them feel as though even their most impressive efforts wouldn’t amount to shit on this Sunday, and also one that brings a team that was sailing sky-high not two weeks ago crashing down to the ground harder than ever before.