Six defenses under pressure; Jared Goff’s rise; Baker Mayfield’s future

“The most important thing from that time has been making sure we’re putting the right people out there doing the right things,” said Macdonald, who spent the past month as a Ravens assistant for seven seasons before stepping up as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021 . “There was a lot of continuity and I saw more confidence from the lads. There’s a consensus that when a player does his job, the other guys do theirs.”

Macdonald’s defense received a huge boost when Smith, a two-time All-Pro, arrived. Smith is the kind of linebacker who can do anything in a roster as varied as Baltimore’s – he’s elite as a tackler, blitzer and pass defender – and his teammates felt his influence as soon as he stepped onto the field. He brings a confidence and communication skills that make life easier for younger teammates like linebacker Patrick Queen and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton. He’s also the best player the Ravens have seen at the position since Lewis retired after the 2012 season.

Baltimore won’t make a championship run unless Jackson heals quickly from the knee injury he sustained in a Week 13 win over Denver. However, the more you consider the potential of this defense, the more you see a real path for this team to be a postseason player. There is no dominant team in the AFC this year. There are only teams with dominant individuals or dominant units, like Kansas City with quarterback Patrick Mahomes or Cincinnati with all of their playmakers on offense.

The Ravens can be a scary team when this defense is used to its potential. In November, Campbell said the group had grown up with each passing week, trying to establish their identity as they did. He said it understood it couldn’t just rely on overwhelming teams with talent. It needs to understand the importance of never believing it has the luxury of relaxing at any point. It’s good that the Ravens are figuring that part out, even if they had to learn that wisdom the hard way.

As Smith said last month, “As long as we don’t get complacent, we should be free to do whatever we want.” If Baltimore needs to reinforce that mindset, all it has to do is glance at the sidelines during games and see Jackson standing there in street clothes. The Ravens may not know exactly when he’ll return, but it’s also clear what it takes to survive without him.

The Ravens aren’t the only defense under pressure heading into the final month of the season. Here are the five others who really need to deliver for their respective teams:

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