By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens’ biggest concern on defense is whether or not they can produce enough pass rush to be a dominant defense in a passing league. The Ravens haven’t made that big move for an outside linebacker. Justin Houston is still a free agent and it’s hard to understand why the Ravens haven’t found a way to get that done.
How effective can the Baltimore Ravens be in the pass-rushing department? If they go into the season in “as-is” condition, can they get the job done? It really depends on the definition of getting the job done. Will they lead the NFL in sacks? No. It’s not happening. Can they have a solid pass rush that completes an otherwise equipped defensive unit? Yes, that’s likely.
Baltimore Ravens pass rush department: Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh
The one advantage that Tyus Bowser has as a pass rusher is that he’s never been asked to be the main ingredient of the pass rush pie. The Baltimore Ravens lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue this offseason. That’s how that has been framed too, the Ravens lost their top two pass rushers. Here’s the thing, the Ravens barely tried to keep either player.
The Ravens must feel some level of comfort with the personnel that they have. Saying that Bowser will have a double-digit sack season would be an irresponsible prediction. The idea of him having seven or eight sacks in a year where the Ravens need him to be “The Guy” isn’t extremely unlikely. Judon leaves, Bowser becomes Judon and, that’s the circle of life.
Odafe Oweh is a rookie. He’s raw and his pass rush moves list is a short playlist. He’s still a first-round athlete. Oweh has the kind of talent that could get him sacks as an unrefined rookie. I could see Oweh getting five to six sacks. It also seems likely that Oweh is going to have more pressures than actual sacks. When he puts everything together it’s going to be deadly good, in the meantime, he can rack up some QB pressures.
Baltimore Ravens pass rush department: Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe
Calais Campbell wasn’t healthy last season. Injuries hurt his season. It’s not a secret and you could tell that he wasn’t even close to 100 percent. Campbell strikes me as the kind of player who wants to finish his career on a high note. He announced that he was considering retirement after the season. That doesn’t mean his tank is running out, that means he has one last burst in him. A healthy Campbell is a disruptive Campbell. Baker Mayfield wants nothing to do with Calais Campbell at full strength.
What if Campbell got back to double-digit sacks? If Campbell has his typical season he’s going to at least flirt with double-digit sacks. 6-8 sacks is probably a safe prediction. 11 sacks is the optimistic view. Campbell started the 2020 season as such a dominant force. We might see that again in 2021.
Derek Wolfe has been known to have strong seasons as a pass rusher. He’s not a sack artist but he’s not a novice either. Wolfe had seven sacks in the 2019 season. Chances are you’re getting double-digit sacks from the combination of Campbell and Wolfe. The Baltimore Ravens may even get double-digit sacks from Campbell. Don’t forget about Justin Madubuike either ladies and gentlemen.
Don Martindale and his blitzes:
One thing that doesn’t make sense is that there is a lack of faith in the Ravens defense while just about everyone believes in Don Martindale. Do the Ravens have the most exciting pass-rushing talent? Nope, they really don’t. Do you think Martindale is going to let that stop him and his defense from having a great season?
Martindale may be the best defensive coordinator in the NFL. He has a great secondary and a very athletic linebacker corps to work with. He calls a great game and coverage sacks are going to have to be a reality. Martindale is also known for generating pressure and for manipulating the opposing offense with the movement and looks of his defense. Martindale will make up for a lot, especially with a good defensive line and a great secondary.
Would it be shocking if Patrick Queen had five sacks as a blitzing linebacker? He had three in his rookie campaign. Would it be shocking if the Ravens got five or six sacks out of the combination of L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Chuck Clark, and Tavon Young? There are sacks to be had and any second or third-level player could blitz their way into one or two takedowns of the quarterback. Those sacks can add up to make up for whatever shortcomings the organic pass rush has.
The Bottom Line:
The pass rush of the Ravens is uncertain. It’s irresponsible to tell you that they’ll rock the league in 2021. It’s not unthinkable that they can get by and lean on their other strengths defensively. That’s the point. Don’t write off the Ravens pass rush just yet.
Notice that I didn’t even mention Pernell McPhee or Jaylon Ferguson who could also factor into the equation. I only focused on the main cast here. There’s a lot to think about here.