Ravens news: Pro Football Focus lists Baltimore defensive line 17th

Brandon Williams #98 and Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Brandon Williams #98 and Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Ravens defensive line enjoyed some upgrades this offseason, but those changes aren’t enough to move them high in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.

A stout defensive line was one of the Baltimore Ravens‘ calling cards for years, yet one could make the argument this unit was merely on the OK side of things last season. After all, Football Outsiders ranked Baltimore’s D-line 12th against the run last year and 15th versus the pass.

As a result, the Ravens ended up with just 37 sacks, ranking 21st in the league last year, while allowing 4.4 yards per rush attempt, which also ranked 21st best.

The latter stat prompted some offseason changes, highlighted by the team bidding farewell to their former undrafted free agent, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, then making a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for soon-to-be 34-year-old defensive tackle Calais Campbell.

This move certainly impressed the folks over at Pro Football Focus, particularly PFF’s Sam Monson’s pre-2020 rankings of each team’s D-line.

As for where things stand now, Baltimore enters the upcoming season ranked 17th.

Monson’s assessment has some merits to it, particularly this:

"Brandon Williams remains and needs to return to his best play after seeing his run defense grade drop 10 grading points in 2019. His defensive stops dropped by a third, and he didn’t make the same impact as in years past. Baltimore’s edge rushers are still a question mark, but this team schemes up pressure better than any in the league, and they’re the most blitz-heavy team in football.Matthew Judon led the team in sacks, total pressures and pass-rush grade but was still just 18th in the league in that last category. Last year’s third-round pick, Jaylon Ferguson, will have a chance to improve on the 30 total pressures he had as a rookie, and first-year player Justin Madubuike will have a chance to add some pressure from an interior alignment. But this is a defensive front that will likely rely on the scheme and blitz to maximize its pressure rate again in 2020."

Coordinator Don Martindale’s defense relied heavily on blitzes to manufacture pressure last season, giving Baltimore an overall pressure rate of 23.4 percent — 16th highest in the league last year. And considering the Ravens boast one of the better secondaries in the league, armed with some excellent coverage defensive backs, sending extra pressure can work.

As long as the back end stays healthy.

Still, pressure won’t entirely cover up the fact the Ravens must get more production out of Williams, who despite a 68.7 overall PFF grade last year, wasn’t quite the pocket-wrecking force he was during his Pro Bowl 2018 campaign.

Judon should look to improve upon his team-high 9.5 sacks last year, and that could ultimately be bolstered by better efforts from Williams as well as Madubuike, Baltimore’s third-round draft choice, ascending quickly. Yet the biggest X-factor here could be the addition of former Denver Broncos defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who recorded a career-high seven sacks last season.

Alongside Judon, Wolfe could be a player who helps get the Ravens into a position where they rank in the top 10 in terms of sack production.

Being able to do so with fewer blitzes could ultimately help the team’s overall defensive prowess, which was still quite commendable after finishing the year as the league’s No. 3-ranked scoring defense.

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Still, there is some room for improvement here. Yet with the influx of proven veterans, along with young contributors like Madubuike and Ferguson, Baltimore could end up with a notable increase in D-line stock value when 2020 is in the books.