1. The Secondary taking over
Don Martindale needs his defensive backs to do a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s a passing league and pass defense is key. With the pass rush being at the very least a little suspect, the secondary had to make things work.
If the Baltimore Ravens are to have the kind of success they’re accustomed to defensively, cornerback play will be huge. Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and a combination of Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young might be the most important grouping of players for the defense.
In an ideal world, Humphrey won’t have to play over the slot receiver. He’s dominant on the outside. He’s versatile, but you know what you want him doing the most. Having Young stay healthy would be a delightful change of pace. He would disrupt the quick passes to the slot receiver. If the Ravens’ nickel cornerback situation is ideal, opponents can’t “nickel” and dime down the field. They’ll be forced into throwing into the teeth of the defense.
The Ravens need to force some coverage sacks. They need to force quarterbacks to hold onto the ball and the front seven needs to be able to punish them. With the secondary being dominant, the pass rush can get great results from a good effort.
The Ravens drafted Shaun Wade. While it’s almost a catchphrase at this point, that he could be like Tavon Young, you don’t want to have to lean on the rookie. The same goes for Brandon Stephens. The Ravens’ strength is cornerback play they can count on when healthy.
The safety play is solid but doesn’t offer an elite amount of range. The more work the cornerbacks get done (often in man coverage) the better De’Shon Elliott and Chuck Clark will look. The more Humphrey and Peters are the stars of the show, the more Martindale can focus on a front seven that needs his magic touch.
2. A Pass Rusher Emerging
A pass rusher had to emerge for the Ravens. Maybe it’s Tyus Bowser reaching Matt Judon levels. He doesn’t need to be a double-digit sack artist, but if he flirted with double digits it would be very helpful. Maybe it’s Odafe Oweh being an unlockable force at times just because of his pure athletic ability.
Heck, maybe it’s Patrick Queen on the blitz or a return to form for Calais Campbell. It’s not all about the outside linebackers, and it’s not all about sacks. The bottom line is that Don Martindale can do a lot to scheme pressure but he needs his guys to make something happen. He needs a player or two to start causing problems for the opponent upfront.
3. Don Martindale needs the defensive line to stay healthy:
The defensive line needs to stay healthy. Derek Wolfe was the most consistent force upfront for the Ravens last year. That needs to continue. Campbell was nagged with injuries and Brandon Williams got banged up a bit too.
While Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington have a chance to show some progress, the defense is different with its’ three big guns. Williams is essential for run defense. Campbell at full strength blows everything up and even when he doesn’t get to the quarterback he completely takes away passing lanes with his length.
Some other things have to happen. Patrick Queen has to show progress and feel the game better. The Ravens need to see what they can still get out of Pernell McPhee and how much they can get from Daelin Hayes as a rookie outside linebacker.
The three big keys are huge though. This stuff is the difference between the Ravens being a good defense and the Ravens being a dominant defense.