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Ravens News 7/16: Defense without pressure, lofty rushing projections and more

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Wild Card Round - San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

PFF projects Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens to run all over the NFL in 2019 - Austin Gayle

PFF expects big things from Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing attack this upcoming season. Per PFF’s fantasy projections, Lamar & Co. are currently projected to lead the NFL in rushing yards (2,158.7) and average fifth-most yards per carry (4.52). And only the Buffalo Bills (483.4) are projected to run the ball more than Baltimore (477.9) in 2019.

Such lofty numbers should come as no surprise to those that followed the Ravens down the stretch of last season. From Week 11 through Wild Card Weekend (Jackson’s eight starts), Baltimore ran the ball on 59% of early downs, an NFL-high in the eight-week stretch. The team also led the NFL in total rushes (340), rushing yards (1,695) and rushing first downs (91) all while ranking sixth in yards per carry (5.0) and tied for fifth in percentage of carries resulting in a first down or touchdown (27%) in the same span of games.

Adding veteran Mark Ingram via free agency this offseason, Baltimore is expected to lean on the former Heisman Trophy winner as the team’s lead back. Edwards will still get touches as Ingram’s complement, but it will be Ingram leading the charge.

How Will Free-Agency Losses Impact Ravens’ Top Defense? - Andy Benoit

Marlon Humphrey gains stardom. The third-year corner was—somewhat quietly—terrific last season. That’s key because matchup zone coverage often plays out like man-to-man, so corners must cover one-on-one. Baltimore’s can. Veterans Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr remain viable, and Tavon Young is sturdy in the slot. They’re boosted by Humphrey, who can travel with most No. 1 receivers.

Earl Thomas becomes savvy like Eric Weddle. In Seattle, Thomas was mostly a deep centerfield safety. But last season, Baltimore’s scheme hinged on Weddle’s aggressive disguises and versatility. Coaches will push Thomas towards that more and more, especially since fellow safety Tony Jefferson, though better in the box than in space, is a versatile counterbalance.

BOTTOM LINE: This defense won’t plummet the way most would after losing half of its front seven, but it won’t be what it was a year ago, either. That’s a problem given the inevitable unevenness on offense.

Training Camp Position Breakdown: Outside Linebackers - Clifton Brown

Under the Radar

With just one sack in both 2017 and 2018, Ray is joining the Ravens with something to prove. He entered the NFL as a first-round pick in 2015 (23rd overall), and the Denver Broncos thought they had drafted a future star. However, after getting eight sacks in 2016, a series of wrist injuries derailed the beginning of Ray’s career. Still only 26 years old, Ray says he’s healthy again. The free agent signings of Earl Thomas III and Mark Ingram II drew far more attention than Ray’s addition. However, if he returns to his 2016 form as a pass rusher, Ray will be one of the Ravens’ most important offseason additions.

Defense and Pass Pressure 2018 - Scott Spratt

Looking only at defense, the Ravens have become the NFL’s model franchise. It’s something they’ve achieved with excellent talent evaluation and development and typically with discipline. Well last year, the Ravens ratcheted up their blitz rate from 26 to 39 percent -- highest in football -- and transformed from a bottom-10 pressure-rate team to a top-10 one. That metamorphosis carried obvious benefits, but no doubt it also cost them when they blitzed and failed to pressure the quarterback … no, wait, the Ravens had the No. 1 DVOA defense without pressure, too. I guess there are a lot of ways to finish top five in overall defensive DVOA, at least if you have the Ravens’ infrastructure.