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Late for Work 7/16: Sports Illustrated Predicts Ravens Defensive Regression


MMQB Predicts Ravens Defensive Regression

The Ravens' defense will be good this season, but the unit won't repeat as the No. 1 defense in the league, in the opinion of Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit.

Benoit cited the loss of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith and Brent Urban from the Ravens' front seven as the reason for the drop-[add]off. He predicts that the defense "regresses, but not as much as expected."

"This defense won't plummet the way most would after losing half of its front seven, but it won't be what it was a year ago, either," Benoit wrote. "That's a problem given the inevitable unevenness on offense.

"Most of the departed have been replaced in-house, resulting in a less skilled front seven with little depth. Stalwart defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce have been less effective than they were a few years ago, but their resounding strength and surprising athleticism still give Baltimore a quality run defense."

Despite the free agency losses, the defense is still being orchestrated by the same guy. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale was so good in his first year calling the shots that he's now talked about as a possible head coaching candidate (as Benoit’s MMQB co-worker pointed out recently). Now Martindale's pulling the strings on a younger, faster defense that can still be very multiple with its looks.

"Coordinator Wink Martindale still has the freedom to unleash his patented 'fire zone' blitzes, where five men rush in a disguised pressure while six stay back in a matchup zone coverage," Benoit wrote.

Benoit predicted cornerback Marlon Humphrey will become a breakout star this season, and he thinks safety Earl Thomas, who yesterday was identified as the NFL's top safety in "Madden NFL 20", will assume the "savvy" role vacated by Eric Weddle.

"The third-year corner was – somewhat quietly – terrific last season," Benoit wrote of Humphrey. "That's key because matchup zone coverage often plays out like man-to-man, so corners must cover one-on-one. Baltimore's can. Veterans Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr remain viable, and Tavon Young is sturdy in the slot. They're boosted by Humphrey, who can travel with most No. 1 receivers.

"In Seattle, Thomas was mostly a deep centerfield safety. But last season, Baltimore's scheme hinged on Weddle's aggressive disguises and versatility. Coaches will push Thomas towards that more and more, especially since fellow safety Tony Jefferson, though better in the box than in space, is a versatile counterbalance."

Overall, Benoit has doubts about the Ravens' ability to win a lot of games this year if the defense does take a step back. That's because he says the offense will run "hot and cold" with Lamar Jackson under center.

"The electrifying second-year QB shows flashes of pocket poise and accuracy, but his running prowess, growing pains as a dropback passer and a callow receiving corps keep the Ravens in run-first mode all season," Benoit wrote.

The Ravens' players and coaches are not about to concede anything as far as how effective the defense will be this season. In fact, pass rusher Matthew Judon told 105.7’s “Vinny and Haynie” that the defense can be even better than last year.

"We can be legendary, one of the best," Judon said. "You've got to say those things, and you've got to believe those things to obtain those things. You can't be shy or timid to say we can be the best defense out there. … Some people are going to call you crazy. They might have called us crazy last year, but we did it, and we obtained it, so that's what we are going to do again."

As for Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, well, it's well-established how he feels about the doubters.

Three Current Ravens Could Be Bound for Hall of Fame

Six players with ties to the Ravens are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and three players on the current roster could very well be joining them in the future. (A certain longtime Raven playing in Arizona this season is likely to have a bust in Canton, as well).

Yardbarker’s editors and writers compiled a list of active players on path to enshrinement and slotted them into the following tiers:

Tier 1: A no-brainer Hall of Famer

Tier 2: A Hall of Famer, but not first ballot (yet)

Tier 3: Polarizing, but ultimately in

Tier 4: On pace for greatness (definitely have the look of Hall of Famers, but they still must accrue more seasons, statistics and accolades to climb the tiers)

Tier 5: Mostly undeserving, but not all hopeless cases

Thomas and guard Marshal Yanda were named to Tier 2, while kicker Justin Tucker made Tier 4.

Thomas, 30, was recognized as the league's prototypical single-high safety by Pro Football Focus’ Mark Chichester and is often compared to former Ravens safety Ed Reed, a member of the 2019 Hall of Fame class who made it on his first year on the ballot. However, Yardbarker's consensus is that the six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection hasn't cemented first-ballot status just yet.

"With him as driving force, Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense four straight years (2012-15)," Yardbarker's Sam Robinson wrote. "This era's premier safety was the centerpiece of perhaps the 21st century's top secondary. His Ravens stay will be critical in determining how long he will wait for HOF knock."

Yanda, 34, enters his 13th season with the Ravens with seven Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro selections on his resume. He is the second-best guard in Pro Football Focus' grading history (since 2006), and led an offensive line that produced the league's No. 2 rushing attack last season.

"[Yanda] was last beaten for sack in Week 7 of 2015. Forty games and 1,767 snaps have transpired since," Robinson wrote. "With 16 games this season, Yanda can pass (Ravens' first ballot Hall of Famer] Jonathan Ogden (177 games) for most games played by Ravens OL."

Tucker, 29, is the most accurate kicker in NFL history and a three-time All-Pro. If he makes it into the Hall of Fame, he would be just the fifth kicker to do so.

"Buoyed by a staggering 2016 season that featured a 10-of-10 success rate on 50-plus-yard field goals, he has made an NFL-record 90.1 percent of his field goals," Robinson wrote. "No one is within two percentage points of him."

Former Ravens great Terrell Suggs, who signed with the Cardinals this offseason after 16 seasons and seven Pro Bowl selections with Baltimore, was a Tier 2 pick.

"His 132.5 sacks lead all active NFLers by 34," Robinson wrote. "Suggs going five full seasons in his 20s without double-digit-sack season may hurt him. 2011 Defensive Player of the Year honor and returning from torn Achilles to help '12 Ravens to a title helps him."

Ravens Identified As Potential Landing Spot For Jadeveon Clowney (Again)

Trade speculation regarding Houston Texans edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney is heating up again, and the Ravens continue to be identified as a team that would be a good fit.

Clowney and the Texans failed to agree on a multi-year contract prior to yesterday's deadline, and the two sides cannot negotiate a long-term deal until after the season. That means Clowney would play this year on a franchise tag (assuming he signs it), and the Texans might be interested in trading him. The team reportedly tested the trade market for Clowney in April.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Clowney is not expected to show up for most or all of training camp.

The Big Lead’s Liam McKeone named Baltimore as one of four potential landing spots for the 26-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick.

"Clowney doesn't automatically make them an elite defense, but combined with their talent in the secondary and some hungry young guys in the middle, he'd help immensely,"[space]McKeon wrote. "Clowney is athletic enough to perform all the responsibilities Baltimore asks of their outside linebackers, and is good enough to come in and help immediately. … A move for Clowney would go a long way towards solidifying their place as a top contender in the AFC."

As for what it would take to acquire Clowney, who has missed 18 games in five seasons due to injury, McKeon wrote: "The price would be optimally at least one first-round pick, but given the price of edge rushers was set this summer at a second-round pick with the trades of Dee Ford and Frank Clark, [Houston] may have to settle for less."

In May, The Athletic's Aaron Reiss named the Ravens as one of five potential trade partners for Clowney, and Last Word on Pro Football’s Ben Ramos-Salsberg wrote last month that Clowney would be a perfect fit for the Ravens.

Harbaugh Is No. 7 in Power Rankings

Harbaugh came in at No. 7 on analyst Elliot Harrison's NFL power rankings for head coaches.

"The pundits have been keeping a steady pour of haterade on John Harbaugh over the last couple of seasons," Harrison wrote. "Never mind that Harbaugh … made an extremely difficult decision at quarterback last year, switching from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson in a move that pushed the Ravens to the postseason for the seventh time in his 11 seasons in Baltimore. The Ravens have done plenty of damage once reaching the playoffs during the Harbaugh era, as well, going 10-6 with a Super Bowl win and two AFC Championship Game losses."

Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler believes Harbaugh is in a great situation heading into this season.

"The Ravens are younger all across the board than they ever have been while Harbaugh was the head coach," Schisler wrote. "Most of the core players for the future are still on rookie deals. Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Orlando Brown Jr. are all players that have been brought in to build around Lamar Jackson.

"Owner Steve Bisciotti has always been keen on continuity. Most owners in the NFL would have turned on Harbaugh through his three-year playoff drought. Bisciotti thought he hired the right coach in 2008 and he stuck it out. There have been some frustrating times but Baltimore football has more hope than it has had in a long time. The Ravens don't have to start over from scratch because they have a tried and tested head coach."

Ex-Raven Alex Collins Suffers Broken Leg

Former Ravens running back Alex Collins suffered a broken leg two weeks ago and recently underwent surgery to repair the injury, Rapoport reported. Collins, a free agent, had been expected to sign with a team before the start of the regular season.

Collins, who was selected by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, became one of the NFL's Cinderella stories in 2017, leading the Ravens in rushing yards (973) and yards from scrimmage (1,160). However, last season he ran for just 411 yards in 10 games before being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

The Ravens waived Collins in March.

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