Latest signings once again pay off for Ravens defense

November 18, 2019 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nose tackle Michael Pierce’s absence didn’t stop the Ravens defense from turning in its best performance of the season in Sunday’s dominant 41-7 win over Houston.

Thanks in part to general manager Eric DeCosta’s latest in-season signings of veteran defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis, Baltimore held the Texans to 57 rushing yards on 15 carries through the first three quarters before giving up a Carlos Hyde 41-yard touchdown run long after the outcome had long been decided. Peko and Ellis had yet to play in the NFL this season, but the pair combined to play 43 snaps and make five tackles.

“Both of those guys stepped right in there, and you have to give them a lot of credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “To step in there like that, off the street, so to speak, they hadn’t been playing for the last few weeks. To be in that kind of shape, that’s not easy to do. They had over 20 plays apiece out there and did a heck of a job.

“It’s really good for our team. It gives us depth. It gives us top-level depth, starter-type level depth across the board.”

Peko and Ellis were two of six Ravens players who were not part of the organization in Week 1 to play 20 or more defensive snaps on Sunday. Those roster additions — headlined by last month’s acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters — and the healthy post-bye return of cornerback Jimmy Smith have helped Baltimore improve from 27th in total defense and 23rd in points allowed after Week 4 to a respectable 14th in total yards allowed per game and seventh in scoring defense entering Monday. The Ravens allowed a season-low seven points and just 232 total yards against the Texans, the lowest yardage total they’ve surrendered since the season-opening 59-10 win at Miami.

Despite how pleased he was with the performance of Peko and Ellis, Harbaugh remains hopeful that Pierce can return in time for Monday night’s road game against the Los Angeles Rams. The fourth-year defensive lineman hasn’t played or practiced since injuring his right ankle early in the Week 10 win at Cincinnati.

“He had a chance for Sunday. I was told he had a chance for Sunday. He didn’t make it,” Harbaugh said. “If you start trying to predict things and you don’t know — I’m told he has a chance. I assume he has a better chance for this Sunday, and I’m kind of counting on him right now. But you just never know how healing is going to go.”

Special-teams standout and reserve wide receiver Chris Moore is also a possibility to play in Week 12 after missing the last two games with what Harbaugh confirmed to be a broken thumb. Moore has continued to practice on a limited basis, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact while practicing with a cast on his left thumb.

“We can protect it,” Harbaugh said. “He just has to feel good running and doing the things he has to do with his hands. He has a real good shot, but it’ll be really up to him and how it feels.”

The 8-2 Ravens will make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in two years as they play at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but it will mark the 12th time in 14 Monday games under Harbaugh in which Baltimore has been the away team. The Ravens have gone 8-5 despite that extreme road disadvantage.

The bigger challenge could be the quick turnaround in flying home Tuesday morning and immediately beginning preparations for the Week 13 showdown with NFC-leading San Francisco.

“We’ve been everywhere on Monday night. It’s like Johnny Cash,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “We’ve been everywhere, man, on Monday night — just not in Baltimore. Everywhere but Baltimore. I’m not complaining.

“It’s just something that you deal with, and we’ll be excited.”