The Baltimore Ravens have always been in the business of signing unheralded workhorse players just before the season starts that always seem to become key cogs in the defense by the end of the season. Cory Redding is a perfect example of this.
But now Redding is gone. So are Jarret Johnson and back-up, space eating Brandon McKinney.
The Ravens run defense was still good last season, but not like in years past. They gave up several 100 yard rushing games and the Patriots used the advantage of having the Ravens nickle and dime defense on the field for the majority of the game to take advantage of the run against them in the AFC Championship game.
That was with Johnson and Redding on the field, two of the Ravens best run defenders. It's been said by many coaches over the years, "nobody sets the edge like Jarret Johnson".It's true, Johnson is an excellent run defender. So is Cory Redding. Their knowledge and experience can not be replaced, no matter how fast and strong the younger player taking their snaps may be.
Taking there place, for the time being, will most likely be Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee. With some Arthur Jones mixed in too. Jones may be the Ravens best hope to keep the run defense up to par. He can be a space eater in the middle or a guy on the edge on obvious running downs.
Kruger and McPhee however, are more of pass rushing specialists at this point. That's not to say they can't do it, but it has not really been asked of them much so far... For all we know, that could be the best part of both of their game, but I would have to think they would have been on the field more tracking down the running back on first and second down than coming in on third to get after the quarterback.
Nope, chances are the Ravens will either need to draft a dominant run defender or bring one in via free agency if they expect to stay at the top of their game in that area. Either way, chances are the run defense will suffer a bit. Maybe that's not the worst thing in the world though, the majority of the league is quickly turning into a pass happy, arena style brand of football any way.
Maybe the best news of all is that the Ravens pass defense seems to be heading the exact opposite way. With The Lardarius Webb signing and the drafting of future star Jimmy Smith, the team seems to be sticking with the trends. The once weak Ravens secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the league over the next few years if things develop as they have been.
The problem is, we play in the AFC North and if there is any division in the league that loves to run the football, this is it. If we can't stop Pittsburgh from running the ball we are in trouble. The Ravens play them best when they are forced to pass and their unstable pass protection breaks down. Terrell Suggs got named Defensive Player Of The Year mostly for what he did against Big Ben and the Steelers. However if they can run the ball on us, that changes everything. They can control clock and the game.
We can not let this happen. The best part of this team over the years has always been the run defense. "Stop the run first!" has always been our mantra. Force the other team to put the ball in the air and good things will happen, like interceptions and fumbles. It has been a good mantra. It has made the Ravens who they are. Hopefully not much will change. Ray Lewis has a way of getting the best out of players and so do John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome. Maybe it, once again, won't matter. Somehow they seem to always go on without skipping a beat but I can't help but worry a little.