Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.
After last week’s trouncing of the Los Angeles Rams, I got to thinking of how good the 2018 edition of the Ravens defense could be. Sure, the Rams didn’t play any of their starters, which include Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. The Ravens still looked very good, and I’m going to choose to look at it this way: they dominated who they should dominate. I think that’s usually a good qualitative measure of a team. If you beat who you should beat, and dominate who you should dominate, that’s the sign of a good team. Often times, John Harbaugh’s Ravens have played to the level of their competition, but last Thursday’s game was a positive sign for this season. But let’s take a look at this defense that’s poised for a very big year.
The Ravens are very talented and very deep at every level of the defense. There are very few positional battles that are up for grabs. Those that are, are competitions between talented players, not weak links. The new, aggressive Defensive Coordinator, Wink Martindale, should have plenty of pieces to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. There is a bona fide star at every level, so let’s take a look at the D-Line, Linebackers, and Defensive Backs.
Defensive Line: On a normal roster, the depth here would be overwhelming, but somehow the talent here is overshadowed by the other position groups. Brandon Williams is back and healthy to anchor a run defense that should be stout. Baltimore has always been known for stopping the run, but the Ravens were in the middle of the pack in 2017 in yards per game allowed. Along with Michael Pierce and Willie Henry, the Ravens have hulking linemen to rotate in the middle and not have too much of a drop off in talent. Michael Pierce is one my players to watch this season, he’s poised to become a household name. The others on the defensive line, like Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, and Carl Davis need to step up to join the other defensive line stalwarts. Also, don’t forget about the two way stud, Patrick Ricard, who can more than capably play some snaps if necessary. Willie Henry was finally successful in producing an inside pass rush, but there needs to be more from the others to collapse the pocket from the inside on a regular basis.
Linebackers: The outside linebackers are another incredibly deep group. They’ll be led again by Terrell Suggs and the breakout star, Matt Judon. Behind them are Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, and Kamalei Correa. The pass rush from the outside was led by Suggs and Judon, but dropped off significantly after them. Bowser has been injured so far, but Tim Williams and Correa have flashed to show they can get after the quarterback. As for the inside linebackers, we come to our first question. Who lines up next to Pro Bowler, CJ Mosley? Patrick Onwuasor won the job last year, but was graded below average by Pro Football Focus. Rookie Kenny Young was drafted for his coverage abilities, but I’m not sure how much I’d want either one to be on the field in obvious passing downs. I’ll mention it with the secondary, but I’m a proponent of more Dime packages. With more Dime, linebacker coverage skills may not be the biggest deal. The better run-stuffer should get the early down work, and it will be up to Young to use his athleticism to prove he can contribute in the box.
Secondary: Jimmy Smith is back surprisingly quickly, but injuries have always been the only thing to hold him back from stardom. Luckily, the Ravens have three other starting caliber corners in Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Maurice Canady. Tavon Young is back from his ACL so all of a sudden, the Ravens have five corners that they can comfortably put on the field. The safeties are back and ready to ball, Eric Weddle will take his post to command the back end of the defense and Martindale should be able to put Tony Jefferson in the best spots to maximize his play making ability. As I mentioned before, the Ravens can utilize Dime packages to get the most out of their young, talented reserve safeties. Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott can plug in to play in the Dime, and Kai Nacua showed impressive ball hawking skills throughout his college career. By taking the middle linebacker that is weaker in coverage off the field and replacing him with a safety, the Ravens can cover more ground in obvious passing situations and get the offense back on the field. The depth at the back end is the real strength of this defense. Five NFL caliber corners and 5 NFL caliber safeties is unheard of, so Martindale and the fans should have a lot to be excited about with this group.
The Jaguars, Vikings, and Eagles defenses will get a lot of attention this season, and rightfully so. The Rams added several new pieces to boost their defense as well, but the Ravens should in no way be overlooked. There is so much depth at every position group that Martindale can make risky calls and get away with them because of the sheer talent to make up for it. Even the one possible weakness, weakside linebacker, could be mitigated by calling Dime packages more often.
The defense that forced the league’s most turnovers in 2017 should pick up right where they left off. An improved pass rush from the talented outside backers and from the inside will torment quarterbacks all day long. If they can crack down on the big plays allowed, this defense can be in the top 5 in the league in almost every statistical category. The depth at every position should help thwart those all-too-familiar 4th quarter collapses.
There was lots of talk about last year’s Ravens defense being the best in franchise history, if not NFL history. While they may not have lived up to that billing, the 2018 version is set up to be even better. If defense wins championships, get ready Ravens fans. 2018 could be special.