Ravens linebacker Jadeveon Clowney saw it coming before the ball was even snapped.
As he lined up against Colts right tackle Braden Smith, Clowney glanced at safety Kyle Hamilton. In the midst of the first defensive series of the game, Hamilton was next to Clowney, operating from the slot on third-and-8. Clowney had a hunch his teammate had a chance for a big play.
“I was like ‘Kyle, I think you’ve got to get a sack right here,’” Clowney said.
The Ravens practiced this defensive alignment all week. If Hamilton stood next to Clowney, the goal would be for Clowney to draw the offensive line’s attention, creating a lane for Hamilton to get to the quarterback.
When the ball snapped, the plan worked. Hamilton flew by Clowney and the entire Colts offensive line and dropped quarterback Gardner Minshew for a 10-yard loss. With Clowney lined up with his hand in the dirt off the edge, the Colts devoted their attention to stopping him.
On the next series, Hamilton would do it again. On a third-and-8, he flew off the edge standing next to Clowney to sack Minshew for another 10 yards. A third sack just before halftime nearly created a turnover, but Minshew’s fumble was recovered by a teammate.
By aligning Hamilton outside next to Clowney, the Ravens incorporated a different look that resulted in a career day for Hamilton. While the Ravens’ offense sputtered in the 22-19 overtime loss to the Colts, Hamilton had his best day as a pro. He finished Sunday with three sacks, a career-high nine combined tackles, three quarterback hits, a pass defended and one forced fumble.
Hamilton was quick to credit the communication he had with Clowney before that first sack and throughout the game.
“Anytime you get an edge blitz like that, it’s kind of a team rush,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got Clowney on the edge, who is one of the best pass rushers in this league, and he’s pretty much giving himself up so I can free up and get those sacks. It’s him doing his job allowing me to get [tackles for loss] and sacks and things like that. It goes hand in hand. We’ve been practicing it all week, and we executed it well.”
Hamilton’s three sacks were the most by a Ravens defensive back in the first half in team history and tied an NFL record for most sacks in the first half by a defensive back. At 22 years and 192 days old, he became the youngest defensive back with three sacks in a game since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic.
“Honestly, that’s probably about as unblocked as you can get,” Hamilton said of the sacks. “You’ve got to make your layups.”
Although Hamilton started the year at the traditional safety spot next to Marcus Williams, he’s adapted in Baltimore’s secondary as it has endured injuries. The Ravens turned to Hamilton against the Colts after losing starting nickel corner Ar’Darius Washington. Washington was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after leaving the Week 2 victory against the Bengals with a chest injury. Without him, the Ravens moved Hamilton back to the slot, a role he primarily operated from last season during his rookie year. Daryl Worley replaced him at his traditional safety spot.
“The coaches do a good job of sprinkling me in there every now and then and kind of keeping it fresh,” Hamilton said. “It doesn’t leave my mind. ... I think it allows us to be a little flexible and kind of deeper at each position.”
Hamilton’s dominant performance comes as no surprise to anyone who watched him last season. In the slot, he finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded safety, quickly showing off his blitzing ability. Even with a few minor lapses in coverage, Hamilton was a spark as the Ravens’ jumbo-size nickel.
“I call him ‘The Avatar.’ [He is] 6-4 at safety and can run, can hit,” Clowney said. “I like playing with him. I think he’s a great player, smart guy. Kyle, he’s going to bring it. I feel like everybody here that I play with on the defense can fly around. We play well together. We just have to keep bringing it.”
Hamilton has been one of the most impressive Ravens players going back to training camp. Whether it’s in the slot or traditional safety spot, Hamilton makes the switch look effortless. With his athleticism and size, he covers lots of ground and benefits the Ravens on all downs.
“You ain’t got to take him off the field,” Clowney said. “It’s great when you don’t got to take guys off the field for certain personnel just because somebody else is in the game. You can just keep the same guys out there like our linebackers who can cover, who can run, who can hit. The D-line can play the run and pass; they all work together.”