During his postgame interview after the Ravens’ divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, guard Marshal Yanda accused defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons of spitting in his face.
Some form of retaliation was expected, but as time wore on and Yanda kept talking, there was none.
And that seemed to be a major problem with the 2019 Ravens.
They had team chemistry. They had talent. They had impact players. But they were missing enforcers, players who could intimidate opponents. This team was void of the nasty guys from previous years, like offensive tackle Orlando Brown Sr., guard Jeff Blackshear, safety Bernard Pollard and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
So, as the Ravens attempt to put together their 2020 roster during the offseason, they need to get some guys with that physical, butt-kicking attitude. It might be an offensive tackle/guard like Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, an inside linebacker like LSU’s Patrick Queen or an outside linebacker like Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, but the Ravens need a thumper.
They need somebody mean.
By the end of the season, opposing teams knew they couldn’t beat the Ravens on the field, so they started playing mind games and trying to intimidate them.
That’s why Simmons started the spit mess. During the Ravens’ last five regular-season games, which began with a Week 13 win against the San Francisco 49ers, defenses took late shots at quarterback Lamar Jackson, particularly his knees.
When the Ravens played Pittsburgh in Baltimore in the regular-season finale, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt repeatedly took shots at backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on running plays and no penalties were called.
That’s when you call in your equalizer, the guy who ends the fight. If Simmons had spit on the late Orlando Brown Sr., the original “Zeus” and the father of Ravens right tackle Orlando Jr., he would have tried to pull his tongue out of his mouth on or off the field.
“Everything was personal with Zeus,” former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary once said. “He’d take it to the locker room. Zeus would try to drown you in the cold tub.”
Blackshear or Ravens former Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden would have been up in Watt’s face immediately. Ogden had the reputation for being a gentle giant, but one of my favorite videos is of him laughing in the huddle after he thought he broke the ribs of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
The Ravens need guys like that, like Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey. After Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph got hit in the head with a helmet by Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett during a “Thursday Night Football” game this past season, Pouncey delivered some blows to Garrett’s body and head that would have made former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman proud.
Now, this is not to advocate violence, but sometimes you have to stand up and take the law into your own hands, like former Ravens center Ryan Jensen did two years ago after Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso blindsided quarterback Joe Flacco with a cheap shot during a game.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that the 2000 Ravens defense would take the 2019 Ravens offense apart because they were physical and had too many tough guys. The Ravens had great athleticism back then with their linebackers in Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, but they also had two ornery defensive tackles in Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. And they had the quiet “thug”, the player who set the tone in defensive end Rob Burnett.
The current Ravens don’t have any defensive players who scare you. The cornerbacks, with the exception of Marlon Humphrey, don’t want to tackle. Their inside linebackers aren’t physical and strong enough to get off blocks.
The Ravens brought in safety Earl Thomas III as an enforcer, but he is no longer that type of player. Lewis and Pollard would have been going toe-to-toe with Titans running back Derrick Henry until one player submitted, and the bet here is it would have been Henry.
The closest thing the Ravens have to an intimidating presence on defense is outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who makes more of an impression with hits out of bounds than being aggressive in the middle of the field.
During the past two years, the Ravens have come out flat in the playoffs and under-performed. The postseason is where great players take over, especially quarterbacks, and peaking teams take their games to the next level.
The Ravens haven’t had that kind of fire and energy. There are some things missing from this team, and it might be a few players who have that strong, physical presence.
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Ones who can also create some fear.