The Baltimore Ravens defensive line under performed last season, allowing a disappointing average of four yards per rush for a franchise with a long history of suffocating run defenses. Furthermore, the seven man rotation combined to record an underwhelming five sacks in 16 regular season games.
The absence of their top run stuffer had a tremendous impact on the group, with a Week 2 foot injury sidelining Brandon Williams for a four game stretch. With limited personnel, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was forced to play 54 percent of defensive snaps. This significant uptick in workload zapped some of Pierce’s pocket collapsing ability.
Fortunately, fellow tackle Willie Henry found his footing with 11 quarterback hits, six tackles for a loss, five pass deflections and 3.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign. Oft-injured defensive end Brent Urban will also return after signing a one-year contract, and he is a major disruptor for the Ravens when healthy. Tackle Carl Davis is entering a contract season after displaying some promising pass rush abilities late in 2017. Similarly, Chris Wormley will be looking to make significant strides in his production heading into his second professional season.
The Ravens have a deep group of lineman that have the potential to thrive under new defensive coordinator Don Martindale. The former linebackers coach is expect to be much more aggressive than his predecessor Dean Pees, particularly in utilizing deceptive play calls. Martindale will also be able to deploy outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon down on the defensive line for obvious passing situations, adding more speed to the defensive front.
While Baltimore fielded a top secondary in 2017 that led the NFL with 22 interceptions, a lacking pass rush prevented the defense from realizing their dominant potential. Winning football still begins in the trenches and improved play from the defensive line could propel the Ravens into the postseason for the first time since being eliminated in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.