It was a necessary but predictable move as the Ravens face uncertainty heading into the year when it comes to their pass rushers, with both David Ojabo and Tyus Bowser likely to miss time as they recover from Achilles tears.
While the market may have been a little softer for Houston due to him setting a career-low (min 10 games played) of 4.5 sacks last year, some indicators show that while the man who led the league with 22 sacks in 2014 is long-gone, he could be due for a bounce-back year as a solid veteran presence.
Sacks can be a very misleading stat. While the goal of any pass rusher is to bring the quarterback down, whether they actually do so is dependent on a number of factors such as how quickly the receivers can get open, how quickly the quarterback gets rid of the ball, and whether the quarterback himself can elude pressure.
The best stats to use when looking at pass rush value are pass rush win rate and pressures. These numbers tell you how consistently a pass rusher is beating their man on the line and getting into the backfield to wreak havoc on a play-to-play basis.
Why Justin Houston is due for a bounce-back season with the Ravens in 2022
Houston put up very consistent numbers in all of those areas from 2018-2020, finishing 17th among edge-rushers during that span with a 16.3% win rate while finishing those three years with 29, 28, and 25 pressures respectively according to Pro Football Reference. Those led to fairly steady numbers of 9, 11, and 8 sacks.
Houston put up similar numbers last year, posting 24 pressures in one fewer game while finishing 14th among edges in pass rush win rate according to ESPN’s Seth Walder.
That’s despite facing a higher number of double teams due to some of Baltimore’s injuries, but he did only end up with 4.5 sacks.
What’s more, he may actually be in a better situation schematically in 2022. Houston has spent most of his career in more traditional schemes, rushing the passer on a total of 30 blitzes from 2018-2020.
Coming to Baltimore in 2021, Houston entered Wink Martindale’s all-out blitz-heavy system that moves players all over and sends them from all angles, and came on 44 blitzes in 2021 alone.
New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald ran a different system at Michigan that used two high safeties at a higher rate than Martindale — a system that Macdonald seemingly intends to run in Baltimore if the Ravens’ investments in Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton this offseason are any indication.
This system should benefit Houston, who gets to move back into his more comfortable traditional outside pass-rusher role.
For a team needing stability and depth when it comes to the pass rush, Justin Houston provides a steady presence that should both see higher sack production in 2022 while also serving as a veteran leader for younger guys hoping to make an impact.