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Mike Preston: Have the Ravens finally found their elusive pass rush? The season might depend on it. | COMMENTARY

The Ravens could be on the verge of solving a problem that has hampered them for years.

In the past two games against the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have collected eight sacks, 16 quarterback pressures and seven quarterback hits. With six games remaining in the regular season, there is still a major question.

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Is this an aberration?

The Ravens (8-3) should be able to get decent pressure on the immobile one, 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1), but it’s hard to sack Roethlisberger because he gets rid of the ball so quickly.

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The Ravens are also coming off two wins over teams with poor offensive tackles. The Bears started Jason Peters, 39, on the left side and Larry Borom, a rookie who was playing in only his fifth game, on the right.

The Browns had Jedrick Wills Jr., who has struggled all season, on the left and two-time Pro Bowl selection Jack Conklin on the right. Before playing the Ravens, Conklin had missed five of the previous six games with a dislocated elbow and then had to leave in the first quarter Sunday night with a torn patella tendon.

So, maybe that’s why the Ravens have been on this pass rushing tear. Outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston and rookie Odafe Oweh have all played well before, but then they have disappeared for a couple of games.

Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston pressures Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield during Sunday night's win. Houston has mentored Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh, and at the same time has recorded 22 tackles, four sacks and a team-leading 16 quarterback hits.
Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston pressures Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield during Sunday night's win. Houston has mentored Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh, and at the same time has recorded 22 tackles, four sacks and a team-leading 16 quarterback hits. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

The Ravens need consistency. All this pressure and blitz-happy stuff works in the regular season, but not so much in the postseason because the competition is better. It basically comes down to getting pressure with the front four or five and winning one-on-one matchups.

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It’s a lot easier to drop six or seven defenders into coverage instead of three or four. If the Ravens’ pass rush is finally starting to emerge, the final four weeks of the regular season is a good time to do it.

“I know, like I said, with the pass rush … and everybody wants to talk about pass rush, and I understand how it equates to fantasy football,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “I understand all that stuff. What I want to see is how we’re affecting the quarterback, and right now … I like seeing them get up off the ground — whether it’s a hit, whether it’s a sack, whatever it is — just as long as an official is not pulling up a flag off the ground, too, when we’re picking him up off the ground.”

Most of the talk is centered around Bowser, a fifth-year player and second-round pick out of Houston who has three sacks in the past two games. Bowser is a complete player, which is reflected by his 36 total tackles, sixth best on the team.

It would be interesting to see how many sacks he might register if he were a “go fetch” player, an outside linebacker who simply rushed the quarterback. But the role of an outside linebacker on this team is different, dating back to when the team moved from Cleveland to Baltimore and Marvin Lewis was the defensive coordinator.

“I feel like, in a way, I knew I was capable of that, because I did it in college [and] I did it in high school,” Bowser said of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. “Through my whole entire career playing football, I’ve always been that guy to be able to rush the passer, drop in coverage. Wink has done a great job at using those tools that I have to help this defense thrive, and I enjoy it. I enjoy being out there and being able to play different positions. But like I said, my most important thing is just going out there and winning, and whatever I’ve got to do to help this team win, I’m willing to do it.”

At this point, Oweh is still a project. He has the physical skills, intensity and desire, but just needs some polish and nurturing. He is basically a high-motor, one-move guy who relies mostly on speed, but once he adds some arm rips or swim moves to his repertoire, he could be dangerous.

Simply put, Oweh needs a counter once his initial move is stopped, and he has to be able to hit it without hesitation.

“Like I said, he’s just getting more and more comfortable using his hands, doing different things, doing different moves, and I credit [outside linebackers coach] Drew [Wilkins], and I credit the veterans there,” Martindale said.

Houston has become a part-time tutor, which doesn’t always happen with players his age (32). But he has mentored Bowser and Oweh, and at the same time has recorded 22 tackles, four sacks and a team-leading 16 quarterback hits.

In return, the Ravens have been able to pace Houston, keeping his legs fresh for the second half of the season.

“I’m out here working with Justin and Odafe during and after practice, and we just go into film-work learning about tackles and what works against them, what doesn’t,” Bowser said. “At the end of the day, it’s just going out there and playing your game, knowing what you’re good at and what they’re bad at, and trying to find a way to win.”

Right now, the Ravens appear to have found their niche. It’s a combination of the senior statesman (Houston), the veteran (Bowser) and the rookie (Oweh). And if a particular defensive lineman like tackle Justin Madubuike can provide some pressure in the middle along with end Calais Campbell, the Ravens might go on a big-time roll.

If not, they’ll probably get rolled out early in the playoffs again.

Maybe, though, the pass rush is here to stay. Maybe this time is different.

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