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Ravens still trying to find consistent pass rush, the last piece of a complete defense

Don “Wink” Martindale has only been the Ravens defensive coordinator for one year, but he knows how to deliver subtle messages.

When asked recently what he had seen out of outside linebacker Shane Ray, who had a decent preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, Martindale gave a glimpse into the edge rusher competition.

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“Shane had a couple nice pass rushes in the game. To me, it’s a dead heat. That can be a good thing, or that can be a bad thing. When you’re looking at it from the coaching perspective, you want somebody to jump out and be a little bit more productive."

The message was clear and not just intended for Ray. The Ravens want more out of their pass rush and from outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Ray, Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson.

In the past, the team always had at least one good pass rusher, dating to Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary and Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Now, they don’t have that big alpha pass rusher.

Suggs went to the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason, even though he hadn’t had a vintage Suggs year in the previous three. But right now, the Ravens would like someone to at least match Suggs’ performance from last season.

There have been flashes. The Ravens had four sacks in a preseason-opening win against Jacksonville. They played hard and fast, but the Jaguars didn’t play a lot of starters. Martindale also stole a page from the playbook of former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

He blitzed the Jaguars constantly, which is in violation of the unwritten 11th commandment of NFL coaching: Thou shalt not blitz a lot in the preseason, especially in the opener. But there was Martindale, dialing up pressures like he was calling defenses for the 1985 Chicago Bears.

That’s why there needs to be caution about the performance of the Ravens’ pass rush against Jacksonville and a demand by the coaching staff for the players to get to the quarterback again and again and again.

Leading up to the Jacksonville game and in the two practices after the win, the Ravens have gotten better at rushing the quarterback. Ends Chris Wormley and Patrick Ricard are beating guards and getting inside pressure with either speed (Wormley) or power (Ricard).

Both Bowser and Williams showed up and made plays against the Jaguars, and Bowser is having the best training camp of his three-year career. Maybe this season is a turning point.

Strong-side linebacker Matthew Judon should turn his game up a notch when the regular season starts, and he has the statistics to back up that claim. Ferguson, a rookie, played well against the Jaguars and he showed good power with his bull rush, but he has only one move. That’s like a receiver being able to run only one route.

The Ravens signed Ray and fellow outside linebacker McPhee to free-agent contracts during the offseason. Ray has played well at times but then disappears. McPhee is starting at one outside linebacker position, but he can’t handle that role full-time.

Eventually, they will have to work the 30-year-old McPhee into a rotation in which he is playing about 20 to 25 snaps a game. Hopefully, the Ravens can find that interchangeable group within the next couple of weeks.

Right now, the coaching staff is looking for consistency. If the Ravens can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they would complement a good secondary and give the team one of the NFL’s most complete defenses.

Regardless of how good a secondary is, few cornerbacks can cover receivers in the NFL if a quarterback has time to throw. Martindale will dig deep into his playbook and come up with a lot of exotic blitzes.

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When the game is on the line, he’ll go to Cover Zero because he’d rather lose gambling than die slowly. But eventually the Ravens know they’re going to need to get pressure from their outside linebackers and linemen.

It’s the key to being a good defense and becoming a great one. The Ravens are still trying to find a way.

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