Last year the Baltimore Ravens had a good defense, but did they do enough in the offseason to have the best defense in the NFL for 2020 season?
The Baltimore Ravens defense had a slow start to 2019, however, a few players changed the defense and it finished amongst the best in the NFL. Baltimore added some more players to their already strong defense, can they become the number one defense in the league?
Last year the Ravens defense was not the best in the league, but it had a strong argument to be considered in the top five. What Baltimore did in the offseason looks to have only strengthened the unit. Calais Campbell is still a great player at his age and plays the run as well as anybody in football. Derek Wolfe is a fine player and should be a good addition as a situational pass rusher. Then in the draft, the Ravens added Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison to help fix the middle of the defense. The team also added to the defensive line by adding Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington. All of a sudden some weak points on defense can potentially become strengths.
On paper, the Ravens look like they have made the additions that they needed to make to improve the defense, but did they make the moves to be the top-rated defense?
Last year, the best defense in the NFL was the New England Patriots. They had the turnovers, they shut teams out, and allowed the fewest points in the league. The biggest reason for their dominance on defense was because of their outstanding secondary. Stephon Gilmore had his own island, JC Jackson was a great second-year player, and then the safeties made sure they didn’t get beat for big plays.
The Ravens have assembled their own stud secondary and it should get even better if Tavon Young can return 100% healthy. Last year Marlon Humphrey was forced to play the slot quite often. If Young can come back the team can move Humphrey back outside to his more natural position, giving the unit three lockdown corners. The Ravens secondary and the Patriots secondary might be mirror images of themselves if and when the 2020 season starts.
When it came to run defense the Ravens were not great at it, and their offseason moves signal that they wanted to get better at stopping the run. Campbell is going to be a huge boost to the defensive line and not just with his play. Campbell has been repeatedly recognized as one of the best men in football, his leadership will help speed up the development of younger players like Washington, Madubuike, Jihad Ward and others. Do not be surprised if the younger players not only get more snaps as the season goes on but make more plays. However, the one area that Baltimore could have done more in is the pass rush.
Though the Ravens acquired good interior pass rushers, the outside pass rush is once again being left up to the very young group on the roster. Between the aforementioned Ward, Tyus Bowser, and Jaylon Ferguson, one of them needs to take a step forward in order for the Ravens to become the best defense in the NFL. All three of them flashed last year and did contribute, but none of them took over a drive or made me think the defense has another stud pass rusher across from Matt Judon. Last year Ward, Bowser, and Ferguson combined for 8.5 sacks and 32 pressures. If Baltimore wants to be the number one defense that group will need to get around 15 sacks and double the pressure total.
Because of a weak pass rush, the Ravens blitzed an outrageous amount of times last year, having some improved edge rushers will let them have more players in coverage and that will hopefully allow Baltimore to get more turnovers.
With the number of playmakers in the secondary, the Ravens should finish amongst the top five in terms of turnovers. Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Earl Thomas should be able to combine for 10-15 turnovers by themselves. The rest of the team should get around 10 and that will propel the defense, as well as the offense. If Baltimore can continue to have success on offense like they did last year, that will force more teams to abandon the run and start throwing against the Ravens. When that happens the Ravens will be able to drop more players into coverage as opposed to blitzing in that situation.
And I haven’t even mentioned the strength of schedule and the teams the Ravens will face. Last year the Ravens were a top tier defense and they played well against playoff teams week in and week out. This year the Ravens schedule is much more favorable as they play against teams like the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Indianapolis Colts. All of those teams are rebuilding and I didn’t even mention that they will face the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns twice.
With weaker competition, the defense should shut those teams down, ultimately boosting the rating of the Baltimore Ravens defense. If the Ravens can get some more pass rush production, they have a good shot at becoming the most feared defense in the NFL.