Though the Baltimore Ravens weren’t particularly aggressive during free agency this off-season and, arguably, lost more on the defensive side of the ball then they gained with the departures of Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, the Ravens’ pass-rush should be even fiercer this season than it was last year.
The Ravens, over the years, have proven that perhaps above all else, they scout and draft talent just as good as or better than other NFL franchises. The habit of more often than not "hitting" it on a player and getting it right has led the Ravens to having an incredible amount of depth strewn throughout their roster with young players that are more than capable of stepping up into starting roles should a veteran go down due to injury or move on to other teams in free agency.
While it’s unclear at this point about how aggressive new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ scheme will be, one thing is for sure: The Ravens have several young players ready to step into starting roles for the departed Johnson and Redding which should boost the Ravens’ overall pass-rush.
(After the "Jump", see how the Ravens could have an even more fearsome pass-rush than last year’s by simply promoting young defensive players from within)
Former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano led the charge last year for the Ravens’ pass rush which ended the regular season with 48 sacks as well as Terrell Suggs being named the Defensive Player of the Year, a far cry from the 27 total regular season sacks that the Ravens registered under Greg Mattison, the team’s defensive coordinator in the 2010-2011 season.
Sure, scheme has a lot to do with how aggressive any given defense can be when it comes to getting to the opposing quarterback, and it could also be argued that the Ravens’ secondary was lacking under Mattison due to injuries and inexperience which led to a more conservative approach to allow additional defenders to drop into coverage. At the end of the day though, the talent placed on the field will weigh heavier on the end results more than anything else.
Both Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson were fantastic defenders for the Ravens, but they certainly weren’t "elite" pass-rushers who were always a threat to collapse the oppositions pocket and get to the quarterback. During their time here, where they excelled was at defending against and stopping the other’s teams’ run game. In an increasingly pass-happy league, what the Ravens need now is personnel that can harass quarterbacks and either sack them or force them into mistakes with safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb roaming the backfield.
Last season, Jarret Johnson totaled only 2.5 regular season sacks. Hardly what anyone would call "threatening" to an opposing offense’s game plan. Likewise, Cory Redding totaled 4.5 regular season sacks. Not exactly a primary pass-rush threat either.
On the flip side, two young Ravens defenders flourished at getting to opposing quarterbacks in very limited playing time and lesser roles. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger totaled 5.5 regular season sacks playing in an extremely diminished role behind Jarret Johnson. Similarly, young defensive end Pernell McPhee notched 6 sacks while playing behind Cory Redding.
If both Kruger and McPhee keep up their current pace, it’s entirely conceivable that one or both of these players could reach double digit sack totals next season if they are able to earn full-time starting roles this off-season. Seemingly, the Ravens have been searching for a solid and dependable pass-rush threat/specialist to place opposite Suggs for years, it just so happens that the Ravens may have two options to fill that need.
Surely there may be a bit of a trade off with placing Kruger and McPhee into starting roles to replace Johnson and Redding, but the risk should be well worth the reward. While the "new" starters may be less adept at stopping a team’s rushing game, they upshot should be more quarterback hurries/pressures, interceptions, and sacks.
With quarterbacks dropping back to pass more and more and team’s letting their rushing attacks become somewhat of an afterthought, it’s more important in today’s NFL for teams to have as many capable pass-rush specialists on the field as possible than it is to have several "thumpers" against the run. The Ravens, fortunately, have several young and fierce pass rushers which should fair well against the league’s pass-first mentality.