In many ways the Baltimore Ravens defensive line played the way they were expected to in 2010. Despite some early struggles, the unit again helped the Ravens hold opponents below 4 yards per rushing attempt. They brought consistent effort and toughness and controlled the line of scrimmage more often than not. While the line as a unit typically shows well against opposing running games, they also struggle to generate consistent pocket pressure from anyone not named Haloti Ngata. This is not surprising considering that the group as a whole lacks the athleticism needed to generate a consistent pass rush. Instead they rely on size strength and good technique to occupy blockers and bottle up opposing running games. This helped keep the Ravens in many games and generally made life difficult on the Ravens opponents, but the lack of a pass rush from the defensive line showed up big time in many late game situations.
NT Haloti Ngata -Before the season even began Ngata started receiving high praise. The terms “best defensive lineman” and “best defensive player” were heard when discussing the Ravens top play-maker up front. For the most part Ngata did not disappoint. He took his game, from an already high level, to the next stratosphere. Ngata improved significantly as a pass rusher, collapsing pockets and often beating double teams. Ngata did seem to slow late in the year with a nagging knee injury, but he was a dominant performer who may not have reached his best yet. The Ravens have already placed the franchise tag on Ngata for the 2011 season, and I am sure they will look to lock him up with a long term deal.
NT Kelly Gregg – It was unclear how much Gregg had left in the tank prior to 2010. Early in the season it did not look like he had much left at all. To his credit Gregg performed better as the season went on, but he also saw fewer snaps as Terrence Cody got more comfortable in the Ravens defense. Gregg can still be effective defending the run, but he lacks explosiveness and mobility. The years have caught up to Gregg, who has consistently overachieved for the Ravens, but one has to wonder whether or not Buddy Lee will be back with the Ravens next year.
DE Cory Redding – I had high hopes that Redding would be able to match the productivity level of Trevor Pryce from a few years ago. Redding took a while to get going for the Ravens in 2010. He has good ability to get up field off the snap and did play his best during the second half of the season, but he also made few big plays in crunch time. Redding is serviceable and has a place along the defensive line for the Ravens in 2011, but I am not sure he can be much more than what he was this passed year.
Bench– DT Terrence Cody is the most intriguing member of the Ravens defensive line rotation. The rookie has the size and mobility to be a versatile interior lineman for the Ravens. He will be better against the run than against the pass, but if he keeps himself in shape and learns to stick with his assignments better, he can be a force. DE Paul Kruger showed some ability as a pass rusher in ’10. Kruger added weight to be able to better handle the rigors of play at the end position, so there is hope that he can improve his play next year as he gains more experience at the position. At this point though, he may only be a career back-up and has yet to justify being a 2nd round pick. The Ravens got solid play from T Brandon McKinney when they called his number. McKinney like fellow tackle Lamar Divens is good against the run, but struggles to have an impact while rushing the passer. A player to keep an eye on is Arthur Jones. Jones played sparingly in ’10, but the Ravens like his overall ability. He could be int he mix to see more playing time in 2011.
A big question for the Ravens off-season is whether or not they can get more athletic along the defensive line. In order to do that they will need to address the position in the draft. There is hope that guys like Kruger, Jones and Cody can improve over previous seasons, but none possess the ability to be an every down presence who is effective against the run or pass.