During training camp, Ravens second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh looked every part of a player on the verge of a breakout season, using his speed and strength to wreak havoc on almost every snap.
Oweh’s solid rookie season and preseason performance made him poised to be a foundational piece for a Baltimore defense that hasn’t drafted a Pro Bowl player since cornerback Marlon Humphrey in 2017. But during the first two games of the 2022 season, Oweh hasn’t looked like the “monster” that Humphrey referred to after last year’s home win over the Cleveland Browns, recording just five tackles and zero sacks.
“[Oweh] has got to play better, like all of us do,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to coach better, got to play better, and you’ve got to make a name for yourself out there. You’ve got to go do it.”
Oweh’s potential was hard to miss last season. The former Penn State standout totaled 33 tackles (five for loss), five sacks and 15 quarterback hits while contributing to the league’s best run defense.
He stepped up when it mattered most, too, recording four sacks, eight quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in five prime-time games. The first-round draft pick made an immediate impact, forcing a fumble by Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire late in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ Week 2 victory over Kansas City. During the Ravens’ overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, Oweh strip-sacked quarterback Carson Wentz in the red zone late in the first quarter to end a promising 11-play drive.
After 15 games of experience and offseason shoulder surgery that allowed Oweh to play without a brace for the first time since high school, he entered his sophomore campaign with big expectations under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who Oweh said allows him to be himself.
“He should be a guy that, when we need him, he can get to the quarterback,” Macdonald said during training camp.
However, that guy hasn’t shown up yet.
Oweh has yet to record a sack or a quarterback hit through two games, but he has gotten close. In the season-opening win over the New York Jets, Oweh had five quarterback hurries as the Ravens sacked Joe Flacco three times. In a Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Oweh had three hurries, but Baltimore sacked quarterback Tua Tagovailoa just once as he passed for 469 yards and six touchdowns to lead a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.
Through two games, the Ravens rank near the bottom of the league in sacks (four) and pressure rate (20.4%) while allowing the most passing yards (768) and touchdown passes (seven) in the NFL.
When the Ravens have needed a pass rusher to generate pressure, they’ve often failed. According to Pro Football Focus, Oweh has 35 rushes this season on “true pass sets” — which exclude plays with fewer than four pass rushers, play-action passes, screens, short drop-backs and passes with a time to throw under two seconds — and has six pressures on those reps. Teammate Justin Houston has a pair of sacks this season, but has just three pressures on 35 rushes in “true pass sets.”
The Ravens have asked a lot out of Houston and Oweh due to the lack of depth at outside linebacker (Steven Means recently suffered a torn Achilles tendon while Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo are recovering from the same injury). Houston, 33, played 49 snaps (69%) against Miami, while Oweh played 58 snaps (82%).
“It’s a tough blow,” Oweh said, referring to the lack of healthy edge rushers. “But we knew coming in that it was going to be like that. We just got to get more conditioned.”
Unlike last year, Oweh said opponents have more film on him, so they can dissect what he does well and plan accordingly. According to ESPN, Oweh is one of the most double-teamed edge defenders in the NFL, getting more attention than stars Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers and Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders, who combined for 18 1/2 sacks last season.
“They know what I’m good at,” Oweh said. “But that’s not an excuse. You learn to have a counter for everything, so I’m working through that.”
After the Ravens’ loss to the Dolphins, Harbaugh said he had breakfast with Oweh, and they had a “great conversation” about working harder and being ready for Sunday’s matchup against the New England Patriots.
“It’s really every aspect of the position,” Harbaugh said. “The biggest thing is that the process leads to the production. Come in every day, take care of business, keep it simple, let’s not overthink everything. Start with your stance and your alignment, and we’ll go from there.”
Oweh said he’s hard on himself, but that mindset made him an NFL player. He knows that he can be great, and so does Harbaugh.
“He’s so determined, [he] wants to be so good,” Harbaugh said.
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