Ravens state of the defense
The Ravens are revamping the offensive coaching staff. They brought in the west coast system which will be new to Joe Flacco. Upgrading the Ravens offense that hasn’t ranked in the top ten since 1997 seems to be the focus of the draft, with holes on the O-line and at wide receiver. Tight end could be a shallow position as well since Kubiak’s system utilizes dual TEs often.
Yes, the offense and how to fix it is the talk of the town. Offense is sexy. But let’s not forget about the defense. Defense wins championships. We know that first hand in Baltimore and the Seattle Seahawks just reinforced that notion eight days ago.
The Ravens defense finished a shade outside the top ten in 2013, ranking 12th in passing and 11th in rushing. Here’s a brief overview of the defense as the 2014 season officially begins in one month.
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Haloti Ngata anchors the middle of the 3-4 defensive front. He accounts for the highest Ravens cap number at $16M. He’s left some room for improvement over the last couple seasons. Ngata is solid in stopping the run, and it’s noticeable that the run defense around him suffers when he’s not in the game. Pass rushing on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired. Just 19 hurries of the quarterback was the 28th best in the league among defensive tackles. He only hit opposing QBs four times, with only two sacks. Interior linemen aren’t going to put up gaudy sack numbers, but two is not nearly enough for a guy of his caliber.
Free agent to be, Arthur Jones, likely played his way out of Baltimore this season. Jones is one of the better run stuffers in the league, and picked up five sacks despite not being used on a majority of passing downs. If Jones leaves Baltimore, it could open the door for Kapron Lewis-Moore or Deangelo Tyson to earn a starting spot alongside Ngata, and Chris Canty. Practice squad member, Cody Larsen could also earn a spot in camp.
Terrence Cody is also a free agent and I’d be shocked if he returns. Brandon Williams has a chance to be what we hoped Cody would have been. He didn’t make the impact some thought in his rookie year, (Mel Kiper pegged him as a starter out of college). Some rookies get a pass because they train differently their first year out of college. Kid has all the physical strength in the world, just needs to make progress on his football skills.
On the outside, the major focus is on Terrell Suggs. Rumors lean towards the Ravens and Suggs coming to terms on an extension which would drop his cap number down considerably from $12.4M. An extension could save the team in the $4M-$5M range, while his outright release would save them $7.8M. It’s tricky because is he worth what he’s done in the past? Former defensive player of the year, eight sacks in the first half of 2013? How much less do you pay him for all but disappearing in the second half of the year? Suggs notched one sack in the final eight games, including a Detroit game where he posted goose eggs in every category. Not even an assist on a tackle.
With Elvis Dumervil returning, it leaves Courtney Upshaw, John Simon, and Pernell McPhee as the possible successors to Suggs’ position if the sides can’t agree to terms. One thing is for sure. The Ravens won’t have him on the books for $12.4M against the cap this season.
On the inside, it is very shallow. Daryl Smith would be a free agent and is likely due a multi-year deal. The Ravens could get him at a $3M or less hit to next year’s cap. If Smith walks, it’s down to Jameel McClain and Arthur Brown. McClain would even be a nice savings if the Ravens parted ways, saving the team $3.2M; Second highest potential savings on the team behind Suggs. It’s hard to imagine anyone making a positional shift. I don’t envision Upshaw or Simon shifting over to the middle and having success. While everyone points to the offense, ILB maybe a huge need in the draft. The Ravens only have two ILBs on the current roster, three or four if they tender restricted free agent Albert McClellan (special teamer at best), and exclusive rights FA Josh Bynes. Bynes started last year, but isn’t the answer. It’s time for second round pick, Arthur Brown to step up, making resigning Daryl Smith a priority. Brown can learn a lot playing full time along side Smith.
Cornerback is pretty solid. Jimmy Smith maybe the most improved Raven in 2013, and is a lock along with Webb to be the starters. Corey Graham struggled as the teams nickel corner last year after a superb Super Bowl season. Graham is a free agent and has hinted to wanting to stay in Baltimore. Asa Jackson was a pre-season phenom. But after serving an eight game suspension, didn’t really make an impact after that. We’ll see how this offseason goes and if he can step up when it matters. Chykie Brown also returns, leaving an opening, only if Graham walks.
Safety is a different story. James Ihedigbo is a free agent. It wouldn’t shock me at all if a pair of former Ravens coaches, Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell in Detroit, target both Ihedigbo and Graham to improve their 23rd ranked pass defense. The Ravens carried six safeties last year on the 53-man roster and Matt Elam is currently alone on the depth chart. Anthony Levine, Omar Brown, and Brynden Trawick are all special teams material, and are ERFAs. Ozzie Newsome mentioned wanting to add a play maker at the free safety position, meaning Elam and move over to strong safety where he is better suited. Where that free safety will come from, time will tell.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]