The highlights were few and far between for the Ravens in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley was seemingly all over the field.
Whether he was getting lower than lead blocker Jake Doyle to blow up a fourth-and-1 run by Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the opening drive of the game or maneuvering through blockers to minimize the damage on several short passes, there was a certain familiarity in watching the 2014 first-round pick make plays everywhere at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was almost — almost — reminiscent of a certain inside linebacker who famously did it better than anyone for the vaunted Baltimore defense.
Mosley has a long way to go to routinely even be mentioned in the same breath as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the sheer fact that many fans and media alike watching Sunday’s game made the comparisons spoke to how well he played in Sunday’s defeat. Finishing the game with 14 tackles, an interception, a quarterback hit, and a pass breakup, Mosley at least looked the part of the rookie version of Lewis in leading the defense in tackles and making several impressive plays throughout the afternoon.
“He had three screens out there where he made the tackles pretty much single-handedly,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The posse was coming, but he was the guy there and weaved through blockers and made tackles. He tipped passes. He had [quarterback hits]. C.J. is playing really, really well.”
Mosley’s feel for the game has been praised from the moment the Ravens selected him with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft, but his game speed only gets better each week as he leads the team in tackles through the first five games of his NFL career. No, the University of Alabama product is not a finished product as he was beaten in coverage by tight end Dwayne Allen for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but Mosley has quickly justified why general manager Ozzie Newsome elected to draft another inside linebacker with an early-round pick after taking Arthur Brown in the second round a year ago.
For a defense in transition and in need of game-changing youth with five key members of the front seven over the age of 30, Mosley appeared to be playing at a faster speed that everyone else on the field attempting to slow the Indianapolis offense.
“It’s all about knowing what you have to do, doing your job, and watching film,” Mosley said. “When you know what you’re doing, you can play fast like that.”
The Baltimore defense is still finding its way this season, trying to get more from its aging pass rush while also dealing with health issues and deficiencies in the secondary. Investing a plethora of high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball in recent years, the Ravens have seen mixed results with only Jimmy Smith emerging as a consistent game-changing player to this point.
It appears that Mosley is on his way to joining the top cornerback in that category, which is good news with perennial Pro Bowl players Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata nearing the end of their run as standout players. Coaches and teammates view Mosley as the kind of player who will never be satisfied with reaching a certain level of play, always expecting more from himself.
It’s a mindset that sounds awfully familiar as well.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to sit there and say, ‘OK, I had a couple good games, and I’ve arrived,'” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to want to stack that success and build a body of work up behind him. And that’s probably why he’s as good as he is right now. That’s how he looks at it.”
Having already impressed veteran teammates by cracking the top of the depth chart next to fellow inside linebacker Daryl Smith early in training camp, Mosley has been everything the Ravens expected as a three-down player only getting better as he gains more experience.
The Ravens’ overall play in Indianapolis was forgettable as they dropped their first road game of the season, but it was a standout performance by the rookie that will be remembered. And his showing against the Colts had teammates feeling the urgency to step up their own game to match him.
“I think he played phenomenal. We’ve all got to catch up to him,” Suggs said after Sunday’s loss. “He was out there making a lot of plays. We knew the kid was special coming in, and that’s why we brought him in and Ozzie drafted him. He had a hell of a day [Sunday].”