The loss of Pernell McPhee left the Ravens cupboard quite bare. The outside linebacker room currently consists of Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson. All three have played well and should continue to do so. The Ravens will count on Bowser and Ferguson more than expected, as Judon has already been taking a higher percentage of snaps than most OLB’s in the league. This will be manageable.
However, if one of those three are unable to go, then the Ravens will be in quite a pickle. Their options are:
- Promote recently signed Demone Harris, who has limited game experience.
- Sign Shane Ray, who the Ravens released at the end of training camp.
- Use Patrick Onwuasor/L.J. Fort as outside linebacker(s) at times.
- Start using more non-traditional fronts than ever before.
Four is my favorite. I’m not a fan of the two-gap scheme the Ravens have been deploying for years in passing situations. Wormely, Judon, Bowser, Ferguson, Jihad Ward and recently signed Ufomba Kamalu should be scattered across the Ravens defensive front. Expect to see three of them standing and shifting around different gaps, with the likes of Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce shaded over the center.
The return of Jimmy Smith, who stated that he is “good to go” against the Patriots, is huge. The Ravens will continue using five-plus defensive backs on second and third down, potentially with even higher frequency. Josh Bynes is seemingly the only linebacker that will be on the field every down. L.J. Fort has been playing too well to not be on the field for 40% of snaps or more, which is also where Patrick Onwuasor is used most effectively.
With Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Anthony Levine, Brandon Carr, Chuck Clark and Earl Thomas all likely to take more snaps, blitzing defensive backs should become more prevalent within the defense. Tavon Young blitzed 40 times in 2018, which mostly came from the “creeper” role. Young had two sacks, four pressures and a scoop and score in the Atlanta Falcons backfield from blitzing. I would expect Chuck Clark to continue manning that role, as he’s blitzed 24 times despite only starting three games so far.
Clark has been a force in the box, which seems to be where he’s at his best. This also allows Clark, who has been the Ravens defensive play caller the past two games, to be in communication and make adjustments across the defensive front.
As for the pass rush, let’s take a look at Matthew Judon and Tyus Bowser, who will finally get a chance to shine in a major role.
Judon has continued his steady ascension as a quality pass rusher and edge player. To the untrained eye, Judon (and the Ravens entire pass rush) appears pedestrian at best. That’s not the case.
ESPN’s data shows that Judon is beating his blocker (“winning”) by 2.5 seconds after the snap on 27% of pass rushes. That’s damn good, and just ahead of Shaq Barrett, who has 10 sacks already in 2019.
Examining further, Judon has created pressure on 18 pass rushes, recorded four sacks and hit the opposing passer 13 times. His 13 QB hits rank 13th in the league, but nine of 12 players ahead of Judon haven’t had their bye week yet (Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt being the exceptions).
Judon has rushed the passer on exactly 150 snaps in 2019 so far, dropping into coverage 51 times. On those 150 snaps, Judon has registered 35 combined QB hits, sacks and pressures.
Taking into consideration that from Weeks 2-6, Andy Dalton, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Devlin Hodges/Mason Rudolph only combined to attempt 15 deep passes, Judon has performed quite well when quarterbacks have held the ball.
His best performance of the season came against the Chiefs, where Judon registered four QB hits and a sack. Judon laid heavy hits on Mahomes several times. If given an actual opportunity to get after the passer, the fourth year Grand Valley State OLB will get home.
That same sentiment can be applied to the Ravens pass rush as a whole. Russell Wilson held the ball, as he typically does, and tried to make plays outside the pocket. The Ravens responded by hitting Wilson eight times and sacking him once, which is impressive considering Wilson has only been hit 24 times total in 2019.
Tyus Bowser has started to come into his own in 2019. He’s shown great bend, explosiveness off the line and flexibility when rushing the passer. Bowser loves to “dip n’ rip” trying to run the arc around defenders while ripping under their outside arm to seal his hip around their outside foot. Bowser was PFF’s highest rated Ravens defender in Seattle.
Marcus Peters made his Ravens debut in dominant fashion pic.twitter.com/Lsa86iDiyz— PFF (@PFF) October 22, 2019
I would like to see Bowser control blockers when setting the edge more, like Jaylon Ferguson has shown the ability to, but that’s not Bowsers strength (literally). Bowser is at his best rushing the passer and closing on ball carriers from behind. He’s listed under 250 pounds, so it makes sense he might struggle to hold the edge at times. With that being said, he’s shown good discipline and patience with his gap responsibilities.
The addition of Marcus Peters and return of Jimmy Smith will force teams to hold the ball longer. Drags, screens, run routes and quick crossing routes will be much more dangerous and generally covered more tightly. That will cause opposing QBs to hold the ball and be subjected to taking hits and getting sacked.
As the defense comes into its own, I predict that Matthew Judon will have a monster second half, and finish with at least 10 sacks, 30 QB hits and 45 pressures.
Bowser will also come on strong, finishing with at least 6 sacks.
Jihad Ward has shown good ability to clog passing lanes and is more athletic as a pass rusher than the Ravens other interior defensive lineman. His addition flew well under the radar, but could be invaluable down the stretch. He has the potential to fill the role that Ravens fans hoped Willie Henry would dominate in 2019.
Coverage and pass rush are dependent upon one another. Now that coverage is improving, expect the pass rushers to get home.