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

“The biggest takeaway from that time was making sure we’re putting the right guys out there doing the right things,” said Macdonald, who spent seven seasons as a Ravens assistant before a stint in 2021 as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, last month. “Continuity was big, and I’ve also seen more trust from the guys. There’s an understanding that if one player does his job, the other guys will 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 everything in a scheme as diversified as Baltimore’s — he’s elite as a tackler, blitzer and pass defender — and his teammates felt his impact the minute he took the field. He brings a confidence and an ability to communicate that makes 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 that position since Lewis retired after the 2012 season.

Baltimore isn’t going on a championship run unless Jackson heals quickly from the knee injury he sustained in a win over Denver in Week 13. However, the more you look at the potential of this defense, the more you see a real road for this team to be a player in the postseason. There isn’t a dominant team in the AFC this year. There are only teams with dominant individuals or dominant units, such as Kansas City with quarterback Patrick Mahomes or Cincinnati with all its playmakers on offense.

The Ravens can be a scary team if that defense can play up its potential. In November, Campbell said this group had been growing up with each passing week and trying to establish its identity in the process. He said he had come to understand he can’t rely solely on overwhelming teams with talent. It must grasp the importance of never thinking it has the luxury of relaxing at any point. It’s a good thing the Ravens are figuring that part out, even if they’ve had to gain that wisdom the hard way.

As Smith said last month, “As long as we don’t get complacent, we should be able to do whatever we want to do.” If Baltimore needs that mindset reinforced, it only has to glance to the sideline 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 he will take to survive without him.

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

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