A win is a win in the NFL, regardless of how ugly of a win it may be. Ugly is pretty much how you would describe the Ravens’ performance in last week’s defeat of Cleveland — or should I say Cleveland’s defeat of Cleveland. There were certainly a few highlights, but chief among the lowlights was the performance in pass coverage for the defense.
The linebackers and defensive backs were consistently out of position or outplayed when the Browns’ offense took to the air. Chief among those having forgettable games were starting safeties Matt Elam and Darian Stewart, but they weren’t alone. Throughout the game there were missed tackles, lapses in coverage, and poor play overall.
These two seemingly talented and previously ballyhooed young players were apparently healthy, but were nowhere to be found on the field. Both players had been placed on the inactive list for week three, relegating them to the sidelines for the afternoon.
Now don’t get me wrong here, Brown and Brooks aren’t necessarily the second coming of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. However, shouldn’t two players who allegedly represent part of the defensive future of the Ravens be active on game day? How did two players who were in the mix for starting spots in training camp end up as not even worthy of being active in week three?
In my opinion, both players would have helped against Cleveland. Brown, the speedy middle linebacker out of Kansas State taken in the second round of the 2013 draft, excels in pass coverage and should have been available in sub-packages when the Ravens knew Cleveland was going to pass the ball. Meanwhile, Brooks, the third round pick in 2014, can’t be that much worse than what we saw from the other safeties on the field, even if he is still adjusting to playing in an NFL defense.
While Brooks has been active for all but last week’s contest, the more troubling development involves Brown, who has yet to see the field at all during the first three games. After week one, there were even rumors swirling that Baltimore was dangling Brown as a trade chip, presumably to build depth at corner or another position of need. Brown has gone from a future cornerstone defender that the team traded up in the draft to acquire to an expected benchwarmer and trade chip.
So how did it get to this point? In 2013, Brown played in 14 games mostly as a coverage linebacker in certain nickel packages on defense and on special teams. Admittedly, Brown had issues with the playbook as a rookie, but told the team’s website in June OTAs that things were going to be different in 2014.
“Everything just makes more sense now,” said Brown. “It’s really comprehending the defensive scheme and knowing my role and how it relates to the other 10 players.”
Despite this apparent dedication to the playbook, Brown has yet to appear on the field. Is he being Kruger-ed?
Of course, the Kruger I am referring to is Paul Kruger, the former Raven who now plays for Cleveland. Like Brown, Kruger was a second round pick who struggled to see the field his first two seasons and finally broke through in 2011 with more consistent playing time. According to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, this was mainly due to Kruger’s poor performance on special teams.
With John Harbaugh’s history of sitting non-special teams performers, this could be the case with Brown so far in 2014. Brown only recorded three solo special teams tackles as a rookie, but I find it hard to believe that a speedy linebacker who excels in pass coverage wouldn’t be an asset in kick and punt coverage. Furthermore, I don’t recall there being negative opinions of Brown’s play, but that doesn’t mean that wasn’t the case.
I understand that it comes down to a numbers game. Even though I may not agree, the coaches obviously feel there are players more deserving to see the field than Brown and, for last week’s game, Brooks. While Brooks being inactive may turn out to be an anomaly by season’s end, the lack of playing time for Brown is both surprising and troubling, especially when you consider his status coming into the season.
The play of the Baltimore defense has been spotty at best and the Ravens can ill-afford to see any of their highly regarded youngsters sitting healthy on the bench and not contributing.
The “defensive save” for this win goes to Asa Jackson for keeping the Ravens’ hopes alive with a crucial block of Billy Cundiff‘s field goal attempt in the middle of the 4th quarter. This was a huge moment in the game and certainly turned the tide allowing the Ravens to get back into the game.
Save Tally so far: Asa Jackson (1), CJ Mosley (1/2), Elvis Dumervil (1/2)