Ravens must lean on their youth following the Michael Pierce injury

Ravens, Broderick Washington (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Ravens, Broderick Washington (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

When you think of the Baltimore Ravens, what do you think of? Most will say a history of stifling defense and a high level of success. Players like Haloti Ngata, Michael McCrary, Calais Campbell, Trevor Price, and Kelly Gregg come to mind.

This is an organization that has invested heavily in the defensive line throughout its history and places a heavy emphasis on stopping the run. With creative blitz packages, the defensive line is allowed to play freely while still being run clogs.

Entering this season, general manager Eric DeCosta said, “Yes, we’ve got a lot of work to do” when talking about the defensive line after signing a returning nose tackle in Michael Pierce.

The six-foot-tall mammoth was an undrafted rookie signing of the Ravens in 2016 out of the University of Samford and returned this offseason after a stint with the Minnesota Vikings.

In addition, the return of Calais Campbell was big for the Ravens. But behind those two, the cupholders were slightly bare after the forced retirement of Derek Wolfe due to injury.

You know the saying everything is bigger in Texas? Well, In 2020, the Ravens decided to double dip on the defensive line. They learned that lesson the second these two giants walked into the Under Armor Performance Center.

Selecting Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in the third and fifth rounds respectively with skillsets that balance each other well, the Ravens were excited about their potential.

Madubuike was a highly touted pass rusher from Texas A&M. Washington a run stopper from Texas Tech. Madubuike and Washington both stand 6-foot-3, 293 and 304 pounds respectively —both possessing imposing figures. They stand similar in stature, but get it done with different styles.

In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Ravens selected a defensive tackle, Travis Jones from the University of Connecticut. A third-round pick and regarded as a steal by many, Jones was a top interior pass rusher in this draft class. He comes in at 6-foot-4, 334 pounds, and can move similarly to Aaron Donald.

Entering 2022, the 2020 draftees, were expected to break out and a large role was awaiting them. With Jones dealing with a knee injury at the start of the season, Madubuike and Washington were forced to step into the limelight.

The veteran core of the Ravens happily welcomed their presence and was very optimistic after watching them practice. Campbell was a large fan and took on a leadership role. He was frequently talking to the media about the growth and strides the young men took.

The third-year pros have both given Baltimore everything they want and more in a sizeable role. Madubuike has played nearly 54 percent of snaps and Washington has played about 46 percent of snaps along with over a quarter of the team’s special teams snaps.

In this role, they have rotated with the Ravens’ veteran lineman and produced. Madubuike has already hit the QB three times with 1.5 sacks, to go with 10 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Madubuike has been repeatedly been in the backfield making plays.

Washington, the backup nose tackle, has played a complementary role in run defense. In addition, Washington has provided his presence as a pass rusher. Washington has six tackles so far, a QB hit, a tackle for loss, and a pass deflection.

The aforementioned Jones was sidelined for Weeks 1 and 2 but made his debut in Week 3. Playing 29 defensive snaps, Jones held his own. He did not contribute a statistic, but his presence on the field was felt.

Jones is a big body who can be effective as both a run stopper and a pass rusher. The fact that he made an appearance is a step in the right direction that is huge for this group.

The Ravens will be without Michael Pierce for the rest of the 2022 season

Unfortunately for Pierce, the starting nose tackle who has impressed this season, is set to miss the remainder of the season after undergoing season-ending surgery this week. With this injury, now is the time for the Ravens to rely on the young guns.

The group, not expected to necessarily be a strength, has been the most consistent part of the team. They have played well against the run and are generating pressure. In 2022, there is a difference in the way the Ravens blitz. They have done so with more four-man pressures.

This change has led to a larger reliance on the defensive line and they have come through thus far. Statistically, the defense can look better, but so far, the defensive line has done its part.

The Ravens losing Pierce for the rest of the season now opens up some weaknesses. Players like Travis Jones will be thrust into a larger role. Washington, slightly more experienced, will have the first chance at the role.

This will be a competition, however. The Ravens will use a rotation of guys to make up for the loss of Pierce. In Week 4 specifically, the Ravens will be reliant on the defensive line to contain Josh Allen. After throwing 63 passes in Week 3, the run game hasn’t taken off for the Buffalo Bills. Allen will be throwing and using his legs a lot.

Veteran Brent Urban, a healthy scratch last week, will also be relied on. His large frame and stature help him take up a lot of space and knock down passes.

Another Ravens player who may benefit from this is Isaiah Mack. Mack, on the Ravens practice squad, has impressed between the end of last season and this one. He may end up being on the 53-man roster and playing a large role.

The adjustment may be rough, but the Ravens have the talent, leadership, and scheme to allow the young players to showcase their skills. Each man brings a slightly different skill set, but they all balance each other very well.

The 2022 season will be a very good gauge of whether or not the young defensive lineman are long-term fixtures. With a pivotal offseason around the corner, this situation is one the Ravens will be monitoring closely.

With Campbell most likely retiring after this season, and with the injury to Pierce, there are going to be a lot of opportunities on the defensive line. With a history of success, it is now up to the young guard to take over.

Next. Ronnie Stanley’s return could help initiate this play-calling change. dark

Fortunately for the Ravens, through three weeks, the early signs are encouraging, and this is a group to have confidence in as the season progresses.