The Ravens’ biggest offseason concern remains unsolved.
This team can’t get a consistent pass rush, either with current players or through creative defensive schemes. And with the trade deadline looming Oct. 29, it doesn’t appear likely that they will acquire any players who can help.
Having a top pass rusher is like having a shutdown cornerback. Once you have him, you don’t let him go. If a team is forced to make a trade, it will cost a fortune. Usually, teams only make midseason moves if they believe they’re just one player away from winning the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Ravens aren’t that close. They still have questions about their inside linebackers, secondary and offensive line. Trading for a pass rusher like the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Yannick Ngakoue or even former Ravens star Terrell Suggs, now with the Arizona Cardinals, might be too costly.
So, the Ravens are virtually stuck.
Within the next couple of weeks, they’ll be working out unrestricted free agents and bargain-basement players who might be better than the ones they have on the roster.
They did that last week by signing inside linebacker Josh Bynes, who started Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Such a desperate move reflects poorly on the Ravens’ coaching staff and front office. We’ll get into more of that later, but let’s talk about the real problem.
The Ravens had only sack and three quarterback hurries as they barely escaped with a 26-23 overtime win against Pittsburgh, which played two inexperienced quarterbacks in second-year player Mason Rudolph and undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges.
Sunday’s game should have been over once Rudolph left with a concussion with 7:39 remaining in the third quarter, but Hodges, out of that football factory named Samford, completed seven of nine passes for 68 yards and finished with a passer rating of 98.1.
If Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey hadn’t forced a fumble to set up the game-winning field goal, there was a good chance Hodges would have led the Steelers on his own game-winning drive.
That’s because the Ravens can’t cover and they can’t rush the quarterback. If they could provide some pressure, their coverage might improve.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale tried a variety of blitzes and pressures, and those didn’t work either. Teams can get away with those wrinkles for a while, but eventually the good teams will block those up.
It all comes down to one-on-one matchups. Can your guy beat their guy? Right now, the Ravens don’t have a lot of playmakers on defense, especially among the pass rushers. There are no Michael McCrarys or Peter Boulwares on this roster.
The Ravens gambled during the offseason by not re-signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Suggs and replacing them with veterans Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray.
They also thought young outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, both drafted in the first three rounds in 2017, would improve.
They were wrong.
Ray never made the final roster. The Ravens cut Williams last week. McPhee has played reasonably well, but he is like fellow outside linebacker Matthew Judon. They are both good, complete linebackers, but not pass rushers or “go fetch” players. The Ravens still have high hopes for rookie Jaylon Ferguson, but he is a project for the future, not this season.
It’s just not the outside linebackers. The Ravens don’t get any pressure from their defensive line. Tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are one-dimensional run-stoppers. The Ravens need to find players who can harass the quarterback as well.
Why can’t they find players who can do both? That’s a question that hasn’t been answered for years, and the addition of Bynes raises others. How can a player like Bynes, who wasn’t even on an NFL roster, be better than Kenny Young, a second-year player drafted in the fourth round, or as good as Patrick Onwuasor, who was the starting middle linebacker in the first four games?
What has happened to weak-side linebacker Chris Board, who has pulled the greatest disappearing act since Houdini?
With a banged-up secondary and no pass rush, it will be hard for the Ravens to beat good teams like the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. The Ravens could even struggle against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday if quarterback Andy Dalton gets hot.
It would be better if the Ravens could bring in a hot-shot pass rusher, but few teams mortgage their future with a blockbuster trade unless they are only one player away.
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The Ravens need more than one player.