McPhee and Ray Additions Will ‘Bring Out the Best, or Worst’ in Bowser, Williams
Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams faced pressure heading into the offseason following the losses of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs in free agency.
Now media members feel the pressure has grown even more substantial for the third-year pass rushers after the Ravens signed McPhee and Ray to one-year deals on Friday.
“As much as [Eric] DeCosta and [John] Harbaugh talked up third-year outside linebackers Bowser and Williams, you knew they were going to have a Plan B,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
“A nonexistent pass rush can sink a defense and it would go a long way toward nullifying the significant investment the organization has made in the secondary. Passing offenses these days are so explosive and so sophisticated that even a really good defensive backfield doesn’t stand much of a chance without the guys up front applying pressure.”
Bowser and Williams have contributed in spurts, combining for 5.5 sacks in two seasons. But both rarely saw the field last season in limited playing time behind Smith, Suggs, and Matthew Judon.
At the Owners Meetings in March, Harbaugh called for his young pass rush duo to ascend their play and emerge as consistent threats.
“Those two guys need to step up,” Harbaugh said. “It’s their job to do that. They’re very committed to doing it. I’ve talked to both of them. Both are excited about their opportunities and they have it, and let’s roll.”
Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich listed Bowser and Williams as two notable players in jeopardy of missing out on the 53-man roster.
“The pair of third-year players face a critical juncture of their respective careers,” Karpovich wrote. “Bowser was taken in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft and Williams was selected one round later. … This is a make-or-break year for both of them.”
It’s still way too early to come to any conclusions, but the additions of McPhee, Ray, and third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson make for a crowded depth chart. Outside linebacker immediately becomes one of the most intriguing position battles heading into OTAs.
Zrebiec said the best-case scenario is McPhee and Ray stay healthy and revitalize their careers in Baltimore. On the other hand, the worst-case scenario is neither can stay healthy, which would be a motivating factor for Bowser and Williams, Zrebiec said.
“One way or the other, the Ravens should know exactly what they have, good or bad, in Bowser and Williams this year,” Zrebiec wrote. “The additions of McPhee and Ray figure to bring out the best, or worst, in the two talented young players.”
Depending on how the outside linebacker competition pans out, Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler suggested the idea of moving Bowser to inside linebacker. The Ravens previously tried this move with former outside linebacker Kamalei Correa.
Schisler said the move would hinge of Ferguson’s readiness as a pass rusher, but it’s certainly an interesting possibility nonetheless.
Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown Named Top Rookie-Veteran Passing Duo
Expect to see Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown linking up plenty of times throughout the 2019 season.
There’s a new pairing brewing in Baltimore, and NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks ranked Jackson and Brown as his top rookie-veteran passing duo.
“The old-school, run-heavy offense employed by coordinator Greg Roman creates one-on-one situations for pass catchers on the perimeter,” Brooks wrote. “This sets up perfectly for first-round pick Marquise Brown, who has the speed and explosiveness to blow past defenders on vertical routes and catch-and-run plays with the ball in his hands. Jackson is at his best as an isolation passer tossing go routes, post routes, digs and slants inside the numbers. With Brown being likened to a DeSean Jackson-like playmaker, the Ravens' new pass-catching connection could produce fireworks even if the team keeps its young quarterback on a low pitch count.”
The pair ranked ahead of notable names/duos including 2019 No. 1-overall pick Kyler Murray-Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Flacco-Noah Fant, Andrew Luck-Parris Campbell, and Jimmy Garoppolo-Jalen Hurd.
Brown, who’s recovering from a Lisfranc injury, isn’t expected to be ready until training camp but will have the opportunity to contribute right away.
“Brown is in a unique spot because he has the chance to become Jackson's No. 1 target immediately,” ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. “Only three of Baltimore's 12 wide receivers have caught an NFL pass, and only one has produced more than 500 yards receiving in a season (Willie Snead).”
Schisler believes one of the best ways to kickstart a successful partnership between Jackson and Brown is to employ the screen game. Brown led college football in receptions of 40-plus yards (11), 50-plus yards (seven), and 60-plus yards (four) during his senior season at Oklahoma.
“Having Jackson run to the right but hitting Marquise Brown on a tunnel screen to the left is something to go for,” Schisler wrote. “A team that tries to use blitzing to keep Jackson in the pocket should have to deal with Mark Ingram, Justice Hill and even Hayden Hurst catching screen passes or shovel passes. Jackson gives the defense something to think about so every added thing that could cause hesitation is golden.”
Schisler added that play-action passes would be one of Jackson’s most prominent threats as a passer given his athleticism. With an emphasis on the run game, opposing defenses will be forced to commit in the box, which will open up passing lanes downfield.
“Play-action passes should often get Jackson rolling out of the pocket as a passer,” Schisler wrote. “The entire defense has to hone in on Jackson. Every time it could be a big pass completion or 10 easy yards for the former Heisman Trophy recipient. Linebackers will be caught in a bad spot. They will have to decide to take an angle towards Jackson or to cover their zone.”
Snead Responds to Critics of Jackson
Snead is only one of two wide receivers on the Ravens’ roster who caught a regular-season pass from Jackson last season.
Snead held a free football camp at his former high school over the weekend in Muskegon, Michigan and defended the second-year quarterback, offering strong words to critics of Jackson’s passing game.
"They crazy, man,” Snead said. “The guy is a winner. The kid wants to ball and they only got a taste of what he could do last year. They saw his athletic ability, but the kid can throw … He's been throwing every day since we've been back. They just haven't seen the finished product yet."
Snead caught 62 passes for 651 yards and one touchdown in a bounce-back season, and the excitement is building heading into his second year in Baltimore.
“I’m fully behind Lamar,” Snead said. “If guys don’t want to come in, that's good. We’ve got young guys that are coming up, that are ready.”
One of the receivers who wanted to join was Michael Floyd. The former first-round pick offers a big-bodied, experienced target who could quickly become one of Jackson’s favorite receivers.
How Would Brandon Carr Make Football Better?
NBC Sports’ Peter King asked 25 people around the game of football what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport.
Carr, an 11-year vet, would like to see some of the protection taken away from quarterbacks.
“I was playing for Kansas City in 2008, in the game when Bernard Pollard blitzed and injured Tom Brady,” Carr said. “I appreciate the Competition Committee trying to make the game as safe as possible for the players. I love the fact that the last CBA outlawed two-a-day practices in training camp — that’s going to allow me to extend my career.
“But the rules protecting the quarterbacks are pretty tough for defensive backs. Think about it: a 185-pound nickel back blitzes and can’t hit the quarterback low because of the Brady rule, and he has to be careful about hitting him high to avoid hitting him in helmet. Think of that 185-pound DB trying to bring down Ben Roethlisberger, or 245-pound Cam Newton. He’ll hit him around the waist and might just bounce off. This game’s hard enough for the DBs. I think a DB should be able to tackle a quarterback [in the pocket] by the legs.”
- The Ravens are going about the compensatory pick formula a little different this year, said Sport’s Illustrated’s Albert Breer:
“In effect, getting Earl Thomas will cancel out the third-round pick they would’ve gotten for losing linebacker C.J. Mosley,” Breer wrote. “And signing Mark Ingram will at least chip at the return for departed edge rushers Smith and Suggs. But they still wind up ahead in that equation, which makes the signings of Ray and Floyd this week interesting. Since those happened post-May 7, they won’t count against the formula for a team that’s taken home an NFL-high 50 comp picks since the system was instituted in 1994.”