How the Ravens defense has stepped up when needed the most

Patrick Queen struggled with missing tackles early in the season, but now he and Tyus Bowser are leading a defensive resurgence for the Ravens. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Lamar Jackson was struggling with four interceptions Sunday night, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen approached the quarterback on the bench to offer some encouraging words.

"We’re still up,” Queen told Jackson during the Ravens’ 16-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. "We got y’all.”

Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have won when Jackson was out with an illness and then won when Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions.

How were the Ravens able to prevail when one of the NFL’s best players was either feeling or playing his worst? The Baltimore defense is playing up to its usual standards, thanks to linebacker Tyus Bowser stepping up, and Queen stepping over as he's rotating between the middle and the weak side.

With Bowser finishing off games and Queen making tackles in the backfield, the Ravens have held teams to an average of 15 points over the last three weeks, which ranks as the fifth-fewest in the NFL in that span.

“I just feel like we’ve come to the understanding of just having each other’s back and just playing for each other, and that’s just been the main thing,” Bowser said. "I just feel like that’s what’s been helping us play together, been helping us play harder.”

Bowser has been the defense’s best player, taking advantage of an increased role after re-signing with Baltimore on a four-year, $22 million deal this offseason. With Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith all leaving at outside linebacker over the years, Bowser has filled that playmaking void and has become a finisher.

Two weeks ago in Chicago, Bowser sacked Bears quarterback Andy Dalton on the final play in a 16-13 victory. Last Sunday, Bowser dropped back in coverage and tackled tight end David Njoku in the open field to stop him three yards short of the sticks on fourth down, which was the Browns’ final play in Baltimore’s six-point win.

Bowser’s versatility sets him apart from other outside linebackers.

"He’s a weapon that no one else has,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said.

Since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2017, Bowser is one of three linebackers to record at least 16 sacks and four interceptions (Preston Smith and T.J. Watt are the others). With six games remaining this year, Bowser has set single-season career highs in tackles (36), tackles for loss (six) and sacks (5.5).

“It seems like these past two years he just all of a sudden went kind of crazy – kind of turned into that household name that we all kind of wanted to be when you first get drafted,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "He’s kind of one of those guys that’s showing he can do it all, so wherever ‘Wink’ puts him, wherever we decide to put him, I know he’ll execute.”

When the Baltimore defense struggled early, Queen took a brunt of the criticism. He missed nine tackles in his first four games. The Ravens began to move Queen around more and not keep him solely at middle linebacker.

Queen has found his comfort level and has made at least one tackle for a loss in five straight games, which is tied for the league’s second-longest active streak. On Sunday, Queen led the Ravens with eight tackles despite battling a rib injury in the second half, when frequently he held his side after the play was over.

Martindale said Queen is playing better because he’s practicing better.

"That’s a boring answer that nobody wants to hear,” Martindale said. "Everybody wants to hear that I got out my magic dust and sprinkled it on top of his head. When you practice hard, you play hard. That’s what he’s been doing.”

Martindale often talks in defensive meetings about “Protect each other.” For Queen, he took it to heart in many different ways.

"Early in the season, me missing tackles, my teammates couldn’t rely on me at that point, and I had to clean up my act,” Queen said. "And now, it just comes with everything –- just having your brother’s back, no matter what it is. If he’s on the ground, pick him up. If he’s slacking, pick him up, talk to him, encourage him. Just every little, small thing about it [that’s worth] picking somebody up about – that's what we preach.”