Eisenberg: A Multitude of Pass Rush Candidates, But No Answers Yet

051819_Eisenberg

The Ravens have more questions than answers right now in their quest to replace what Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith brought to their pass rush.

The additions of Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray are interesting and could end up making a difference. The veterans certainly bolster depth and enhance the competition for snaps.

McPhee, 30, had at least one quarterback hit in nine of his 13 games with the Washington Redskins last season. Ray, 26, had a solid role with the Denver Broncos, averaging 23 snaps a game before a wrist injury ended his season in November.

But they generated just one sack between them in 2018, and inevitably, questions about them persist as they join the Ravens.

Can McPhee regain the feisty form that made him an attractive free agent at the end of his first stint with the Ravens?

Can Ray, a former first-round draft pick, overcome the wrist injuries that have kept him from fully realizing his potential?

It’s possible, but there’s no way to know right now. We’ll see. And that’s also the right response to several other questions about Baltimore’s post-Sizzle pass rush.

Can Tim Williams stay healthy and begin to tap into the potential he has flashed at times in his first two seasons?

Can Tyus Bowser become more of a playmaker in his third season?

Can Jaylon Ferguson, regarded by some analysts as one of the steals of the 2019 draft, step onto the field and shoulder a heavy load as a rookie?

We’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see.

One thing we DO know: With all due respect to McPhee and Ray, the organization really hopes one of the younger guys takes off and assumes command of Suggs’ former position opposite Matthew Judon. That’s how these situations are supposed to work.

The Ravens have invested a lot of draft capital (three Day Two picks since 2017) into preparing for the day when Suggs no longer wore purple and prowled after quarterbacks. Well, that day abruptly arrived when Suggs signed with the Arizona Cardinals. It’s time for that draft capital to translate into on-field production.

The window of opportunity couldn’t be more open for Williams, Bowser and Ferguson. You want a starting job? It’s there for you to earn.

But let’s be clear here. The Ravens drafted Ferguson at No. 85 overall last month because they aren’t sure what they have in Williams and Bowser. And they signed McPhee and Ray because, same story, they aren’t sure if the younger guys can handle the load.

If so, terrific. But … all together now … we’ll see.

The Ravens face other question marks heading into the 2019 season. Can Lamar Jackson become a more consistent passer? How will the defense survive without C.J. Mosley? Can a wide receiver corps augmented with high draft picks get the job done?

But I’m guessing many analysts will view the pass rush as the biggest of the Ravens’ question marks. Suggs and Smith combined for 15.5 sacks and 40 quarterback hits in 2018. That’s a lot of production to make up.

As I’ve noted before, the cupboard isn’t as bare as some think. Players who combined for 24.5 of the Ravens’ 43 sacks a year ago are still on the team. Judon compiled seven sacks a year ago and could be primed for double-digit production in 2019. He had five quarterback hits in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

The pressure might have to adopt a different look and come from different places and sources in 2019, with Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale’s schemes playing an even more central role. But that doesn’t mean the heat will be off. Martindale was highly effective last season in his debut as the Ravens’ DC. I’m guessing he isn’t complaining about having so much young material to work with.

Still, it’s hard to muster a consistent pass rush without edge rushers who make quarterbacks sweat. Suggs obviously was one for many years. Smith became one in 2018.

Between the draft and this week’s moves, the Ravens have given themselves a multitude of candidates and possibilities. But no definitive answers, at least not yet.

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