The Ravens are tied for the best record in the AFC. They have a 1 1/2 game lead in the AFC North. Their defense, by any number of metrics, is the best in the NFL. And quarterback Lamar Jackson’s career-best 71.5% completion rate leads the league.
Unsurprisingly, coach John Harbaugh, who is fond of saying teams don’t win a championship during the regular season, is unstirred.
Asked Monday if his team has played at an “elite” level and done so against some of the best teams in the NFL, the third-longest tenured coach in the league essentially said it doesn’t matter.
“It’s really not a measuring stick against the other teams,” he said. “It’s irrelevant that way because it doesn’t matter until the end.”
Still, the Ravens (7-2) have stood out through the first half of the season, most notably on defense.
They are first in sacks (35), points allowed per game (13.8), points allowed per play (0.214), yards allowed per play (4.1), red zone defense (33.3%) and touchdowns allowed per game (1.1). Baltimore has also allowed the fewest yards per pass (4.6), is second in passing yards allowed per game (170.7) and is eighth in rushing yards allowed per game (91.9).
Many of those numbers are borne out of having success on all three levels of the defense.
Defensive tackle Justin Madbuike is tops among interior linemen and tied for ninth overall in the NFL with 7 1/2 sacks, already a career high. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the physical and emotional leader of the defense, is fourth in the league in tackles with 87, while his running mate Patrick Queen is 15th with 75.
In the secondary, Geno Stone has emerged as far more than a reliable fill-in with a league-leading six interceptions, while Kyle Hamilton continues to be one of the most versatile and talented safeties in the league. There have been plenty of other significant contributors, too, including veteran edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy along with the emerging Odafe Oweh, as well as cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens.
“‘Beeks’ was a problem in camp [and] OTAs,” Ravens center Tyler Linderbuam, himself a budding star, said Wednesday when asked what it’s been like to go against Madubuike in practice. “He’s been a problem for us [on the] O-line for a while now. We’ve all seen the issues that he’s caused — the havoc that he’s caused in games, and we’ve gone against that in practice.”
The man behind the scheme, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, has also emerged over the past two seasons as one of the game’s bright young minds and a potential NFL coach.
Yet the defense continues to find ways to play with a chip on its shoulder.
“I feel like we are getting more respect, but I feel that it’s still not the respect that we want,” Queen said. “Honestly, we haven’t accomplished the things that we want to accomplish yet, so I feel like there is a lot of respect out there to still be taken.”
The same can certainly be said of the offense.
Though Jackson leads the league in completion percentage, he has more fumbles this season (10, six of them lost) than touchdown passes (nine). Baltimore is also just 20th in passing yards per game (208.7) and at times has struggled in the red zone or with dropped passes, albeit briefly in both cases.
Still, Baltimore is first in yards per game on the ground (160.3). Jackson’s 440 rushing yards also lead all quarterbacks by a wide margin, and his five rushing scores are third-most among quarterbacks. His 100.8 passer rating is his highest mark since 2019, when he was the unanimous NFL Most Valuable Player.
“It’s just [that quarterbacks coach Tee Martin] wants us to be perfect,” Jackson said. “Every morning, he’s got something [about] championship quarterbacking, and ‘I want you to be a championship quarterback.’ He always tells me, ‘I’m going to grade you harder than probably anybody else will.’”
It perhaps helps, too, that Jackson faces the league’s best defense every day in practice.
“Not trying to toot our own horn, but I believe our defense has no weakness,” he said. “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.”
Baltimore’s special teams, meanwhile, have been inconsistent at times — particularly allowing a punt return for a touchdown against the Bengals in Week 2 and having a punt blocked by the Steelers for a safety in Week 5 — but have also excelled.
Kicker Justin Tucker has connected on 16 of 19 field goal attempts. Jordan Stout is averaging 48.5 yards per punt and has often flipped the field or pinned the opposition deep with 17 punts inside the 20-yard line.
But to Harbaugh, all that matters is what’s ahead, including two important games against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals four days later in prime time on “Thursday Night Football.”
“What the standings are now are not important,” he said. “It’s what the standings are after the last regular-season game that matter. Our guys really understand that.”
Browns at Ravens
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6 1/2