Eisenberg: Why the Pass Rush Concerns Are Overstated


Scattershooting about the Ravens in this calm before the draft buzz starts getting really loud:

Most fans will tell you the Ravens basically watched their pass rush walk out the door when Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs signed elsewhere – and that is true to a degree, no question.

Smith led the team in sacks in 2018. Suggs tied for second. Smith was first in quarterback hits. Suggs was third. Suggs led the team in tackles for losses. Smith tied for second.

That's a lot of productivity leaving the scene. The Ravens definitely are being challenged to get back to where they were last season, let alone improve, in the art of putting heat on opposing quarterbacks.

But the grumbling and abject pessimism I'm hearing on the subject might be a tad overstated. The cupboard isn't entirely bare.

When I started checking numbers in search of clarity, I was surprised by what I found. For instance, players who combined for 25.5 of the Ravens' 43 sacks in 2018 are returning in 2019.

That's not a pathetic, little sliver of the pie. It's a decent slice.

The total is bolstered by Matthew Judon, who tied with Suggs for second on the team in sacks; and Peanut Onwuasor, who ranked fourth. Also returning are three other players who totaled at least two sacks and five who registered one apiece.

Smith and Suggs led the way, but the clever schemes of Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale also had a lot to do with the pass rush's effectiveness, as did the unit's depth. Those factors resulted in the pass-rush wealth being spread among quite a few players.

As the 2019 team slowly comes into focus, the Ravens still have players who were responsible for 55.7 percent of the team's quarterback hits, 61.6 percent of the tackles for losses and 77.7 percent of the forced fumbles in 2018.

That's a decent base from which to start the process of making up what was lost when Smith and Suggs departed. And the Ravens have some reason to feel optimistic about their chances of doing it.

Judon and Onwuasor both finished strong last season, giving them the look of ascending players likely ready to assume larger roles. The same goes for Kenny Young who ranked fifth on the team in sacks as a rookie linebacker in 2018; his productivity should go up if he moves into the starting lineup.

Willie Henry was an active pass rusher from the interior in 2017 before missing most of last season due to an injury and hernia surgery. If he returns to form, he could be a difference-maker.

It's asking too much to expect Tim Williams or Tyus Bower to seamlessly replace Suggs and Smith as the next men up at those slots, but Williams did notch a pair of sacks in limited action before injuries derailed him last season. He appears capable of producing decent numbers if healthy.

And in any case, it's April, so the team-building process is far from finished.

Yes, the departures of Smith and Suggs constitute a significant one-two punch, and at this point, some creative thinking is required to envision the pass rush flourishing without them.

But another generation is developing, and the Ravens' pass rush might be fine in the end, especially if it is further bolstered by new blood that arrives via the draft or free agency.


Echoing what a few others have said, I don't believe the signing of free agent wide receiver Seth Roberts changes the Ravens' draft strategy. They still need to add a young receiver with the potential to start or at least become a viable and productive piece right away. And he needs to be fast. That element is in short supply in the current receiver alignment.


Many experts believe the Ravens have been a defensive-oriented team in the draft, but in fact, they've drafted significantly more offensive players (104) than defensive players (86) going back to 1996. The franchise's all-time list of first-round picks also includes more offensive players (13) than defensive players (11).

So much for conventional wisdom.


A year ago, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan appeared to be the rare player who had truly flourished after leaving the Ravens (in his case via trade). He had signed a $48 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles and picked up a Super Bowl ring.

But the Eagles declined to pick up his option for 2019, which made him a free agent, and no team has signed him. That'll probably change, but fortunes can change in a hurry.

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