En route to game MVP honors, Miller had 2 ½ sacks, six tackles and two forced fumbles, one directly resulting in the Broncos’ first touchdown and the other setting up Denver’s lone offensive score. Ware, working primarily against former Raven Michael Oher, pitched in with two sacks and four quarterback hits for a defense that brought down Cam Newton six times and rattled him throughout.
Miller and the Broncos’ pass rush were the primary reason that the Broncos beat the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, too.
At this point, as they continue to try and find the right mix in the secondary, the Ravens need to focus this offseason on bolstering their pass rush, which was inconsistent last season. The Ravens finished the 2015 season with 37 total sacks, tied for 17th in the NFL.
Of the top-10 teams in sacks during the regular season, nine qualified for the playoffs. The only exception was the Detroit Lions who finished tied for seventh with 43 sacks. Those numbers are no coincidence. The best way to combat these high-flying offenses in the pass-happy NFL is to get to the quarterback.
Most football pundits consider quarterbacks and pass rushers as the game’s top commodities. The Ravens feel that they have a championship-level quarterback in Joe Flacco. But they badly need to help their two aging edge rushers.
The healthy return of Terrell Suggs, who missed all but one game in 2015 after tearing his Achilles in the regular-season opener against the Broncos, should help. But Suggs is still a 33-year-old who will have to come back from his second Achilles tear in a four-year span.
Elvis Dumervil, who had just six sacks this past season, would benefit from having a healthy Suggs rushing from the other side and playing fewer snaps than he did this past season. But Dumervil turned 32 last month and appeared to wear down amid an increased workload in 2015.
Za’Darius Smith improved as his 5 ½-sack rookie season went on and he should be even better in season two. If he stays healthy, defensive end Brent Urban figures to help provide more pressure from the interior.
But the Ravens will still need more pass-rushing help from the outside and that won’t be easy to find. Miller is due to be a free agent, but there is no way that the Broncos are going to allow the Super Bowl MVP and one of the game’s top defensive players to hit the open market. ESPN and NFL Network have both reported that the Broncos will put the franchise tag on Miller if they can’t agree to a long-term contract extension.
Several other impact pass rushers, a group that includes Tamba Hali (Kansas City Chiefs), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants), Olivier Vernon (Miami Dolphins) and Bruce Irvin (Seattle Seahawks), are eligible for free agency. But they will all get big contracts from either their current teams or outside ones, and the Ravens won’t have a whole lot of salary cap space to win a bidding war.
The Ravens do have the sixth overall pick in the draft, which will give them a chance to select one of the top defensive players available. However, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and other draft pundits don’t project an edge rusher to go in the top 10.
Both Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh mentioned a pass rusher as one of the team’s biggest offseason needs. The Broncos over the past couple of weeks have showed why.
However, it’s going to be easier said than done.