Eisenberg: Exactly What the Ravens Needed

Michael Brockers and Calais Campbell in action during an NFL game.

As their 14-2 regular-season record indicates, the Ravens were really good in 2019. But on the few occasions when they weren't, their rushing defense was central to their problems.

You probably remember (but would like to forget) Nick Chubb rumbling 88 yards untouched to nail down the Cleveland Browns' victory in September. Even more nightmarish was Derrick Henry's rushing performance in the Tennessee Titans' playoff upset.

With that in mind, I wrote last month that the Ravens might surprise experts and draft a defensive lineman in the first round. That's unlikely to happen now that they've reportedly gone all-in on fixing the problem by acquiring veteran D-linemen Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers.

The team has not confirmed the moves, which have been widely reported in the media, and all signings are pending physicals, which have been delayed by the coronavirus crisis.

But if and when they become official, the moves illustrate just how concerned the Ravens were about their run defense.

They didn't exactly fall apart in 2019, finishing No. 5 in the league in rushing defense. But their average per-carry yield of 4.4 yards was easily the highest in franchise history.

That figure is likely to take a serious nosedive in 2020 with Campbell and Brockers lined up next to Brandon Williams. Suddenly, the Ravens will have one of the NFL's stoutest defensive fronts -- three top-tier run stoppers weighing nearly a thousand pounds combined.

This is going to be fun to watch.

You can expect the Ravens to start pushing opponents around now instead of getting pushed around now and then.

They'll certainly operate differently. For years, they've rotated as many as six D-linemen during games, hoping to squeeze solid overall production from their "pieces." But Campbell and Brockers are three-down performers. They don't come off the field much.

There'll still be a rotation, likely with Chris Wormley and Justin Ellis, the latter another reported signing pending a physical. But the rotation won't feature nearly as much coming and going.

Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowler, played 79.7 percent of the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive snaps in 2019. Brockers played 67.8 percent of the Los Angeles Rams' defensive snaps.

They stay on the field because a) they're durable, and b) they can rush the passer as well as stop the run. That's the real beauty of these supposed acquisitions and a big part of why the Ravens didn't blink even though the moves gobbled up a lot of salary cap space.

They wanted to solidify their rushing defense AND bolster their pass rush, and Campbell and Brockers address both issues. Campbell is especially multi-talented, having posted 6.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits in 2019 (and 31.5 sacks since 2018).

I'm sure the Ravens will still try to upgrade the pass rush with outside linebackers, even after franchising Matthew Judon to keep him in purple in 2020. Pernell McPhee would be a cost-effective option, it seems. Others will arise. Judon should benefit from offenses having to account for Campbell and Brockers.

But the very nature of the pass rush will change with Brockers and Campbell providing more push from the interior. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale surely is salivating about getting to fold them into his renowned package of blitzes.

My guess is the reported additions won't change the Ravens' priorities in the draft. They're still likeliest to take an inside linebacker at No. 28 overall. Adding a starting-caliber rookie at that position, after adding Campbell and Brockers, would effectively complete a major rebuild of the front seven.

Between that and their already-strong secondary, the Ravens would have the potential to dominate on defense in 2020.

Of course, what happens with picks Nos. 1-27 could produce a different outcome. The draft class is deep in wide receivers. The Ravens have a longer list of offensive needs in the wake of Marshal Yanda's retirement and the trade of Hayden Hurst.

In any case, they entered this offseason determined to improve their defense and reaffirm their adherence to their longstanding first commandment on that side of the ball -- Thou Shalt Stop the Run.

Campbell and Brockers are exactly what they needed.

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