Wink Martindale is the 'Secret Weapon' to Ravens' Pass Rush
There's a reason former NFL General Manager Michael Lombardi tabbed Don 'Wink' Martindale as the league's top defensive coordinator.
Martindale is known for his aggressive defensive play-calling, and he might be the answer to one of the Ravens' biggest offseason questions.
While much of the offseason attention has focused on Lamar Jackson and the new-look offense, the Ravens are in the process of replacing 15.5 sacks from last season.
The Ravens have a mix of young and veteran talent at outside linebacker, but 105.7 the Fan’s Alex Woodward believes Martindale will be the secret weapon to the pass rush's success.
"The Ravens might not have the marquee pass-rushing names you would like to see on defense, but they do have a defensive guru who will be just as important to the pass rush as the talent on the field," Woodward wrote.
"Martindale has been more aggressive in general, but especially on 3rd and long situations or 'do or die' situations," Woodward added. "... Not only is he aggressive, but he's also creative with how he maneuvers the defense. A lot of Martindale's system is predicated on communication pre-snap and making on-the-fly adjustments. It's not just calling a play and rolling with it. It's about teaching the defense how to read what the offense might be doing and teaching them how to make those adjustments."
NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling named the Ravens' outside linebackers one of the thinnest position groups across the NFL. Woodward said that while the Ravens might not have the best pass rush group, Martindale's ability to scheme pressure will be crucial to the defense's success.
According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens sent four pass rushers on blitzes, the lowest of any team last season (53 percent), but sent five or more pass rushers, the highest of any team (39 percent). In the Week 17 playoff-clinching win against the Cleveland Browns, Martindale ran Cover-0 on four straight plays with the game on the line.
"The Ravens' pivot from Joe Flacco to Jackson at quarterback set off radical changes to the team's strategy and effectiveness that reverberated to the defensive side with differences in typical play totals and game scripts," FO’s Scott Spratt wrote. "But from the first half of last season to the second, the Ravens didn't change their frequency of four-man rushes or blitzes. And with both strategies, the team enjoyed similar 10- to 15-percent improvements in their pressure rates and 25- to 30-percent improvements in their defensive DVOA after their Week 10 bye."
The Ravens received pass rush contributions from other positions last season. Four defensive backs recorded at least sack one sack and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor totaled a career-high 5.5 sacks in a breakout campaign.
SiriusXM’s Jim Miller joined Glenn Clark Radio on Wednesday and expects the Ravens' best pass rush to come from blitzing.
"If you look at that Baltimore defense, almost every one of those defensive backs had a sack," Miller said. "[Martindale is] not afraid to blitz Tony Jefferson, or Tavon Young, or any of the defensive backs … You've got a rotation of guys that can provide pressure."
"Wink's ability to scheme up ways to free up a pass rusher will be paramount to the Ravens' success in the pass rush," Woodward wrote. "I fully expect to see exotic blitz packages, unique personnel packages, and the same level of aggression as last year."
Reasons to Be Optimistic About Lamar Jackson's Improvement
It's likely Lamar Jackson will see the field in small doses in tonight's preseason opener, but pundits have come away impressed with his progression through the early portions of training camp.
Yahoo! Sports' Terez Paylor offered some reasons to be optimistic after his visit to Owings Mills.
"The Ravens] think he’s going to be better pre-play,” [Paylor said on the “Yahoo Sports NFL” podcast. "He's spitting out the words clear, cleaner in the huddle. … This is important because if a quarterback can spit the play out quickly and cleanly, he can get to the huddle faster, he can identify coverages quicker, he can give dummy cadences, and he can scan defensive players for details."
USA Today’s Jarrett Bell wrote in June that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman overhauled the verbiage in the team's new system, getting rid of elongated play calls.
According to Paylor, the biggest reason for optimism surrounds Jackson's improved mechanics. Jackson spent extensive time working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and his receivers during the offseason.
"[The Ravens] believe he sees the field," Paylor said. "They believe that's not the issue with him. He sees guys open on the back-end of plays that other quarterbacks wouldn't. His issue has been his accuracy and mechanics, and they insist he's better at that. … And let's not underestimate the impact that him getting starters reps will have on that."
Added Miller: "Anything below the waist in terms of your football and hips … those are very correctable things, and he's such a fantastic athlete that I think it's just a matter of time that it's all going to come together for him."
Paylor said veteran wide receiver Willie Snead IV told him that he's begun to better understand Jackson's throwing tendencies. Snead is expected to be one of Jackson's top targets this season, and every bit of added chemistry makes a difference.
Among the observations Paylor made at camp, he's expecting big things from tight end Mark Andrews.
"I think he's going to be Lamar's security blanket and I heard that from a few people," Paylor said."… Andrews is a proven asset, someone that Lamar already trusts. I think he's going to have a nice season from that position."
Strong Chance to Keep Undrafted Streak Alive
At least one undrafted rookie has made the Ravens' 53-man roster for 15 straight seasons and this year's group will have their first crack at making their case tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When asked in a Q&A if he expects the undrafted streak to continue, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec sees it holding up for now.
"I'd say true," Zrebiec wrote. "[The] top candidates right now are WR Antoine Wesley, OL Patrick Mekari or DL Gerald Willis. There hasn't been any games yet so others could emerge, but as of now, I'd say those three have the best chance. Ravens take a lot of pride in their UDFA classes. My guess is they'll find a way to keep one."
Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz took a different spin on the question and picked his top six undrafted preseason fan favorites.
Along with Wesley, wide receiver Joe Horn Jr., outside linebacker Michael Onuoha, tight end Charles Scarff, and cornerback Terrell Bonds made the list, but wide receiver Sean Modster came in at No. 1.
"Though Modster faded a bit after enjoying a strong minicamp in June, he tops my list of potential preseason darlings because of his sharp route-running ability and his production at Boise State," Kasinitz wrote. "The 5-foot-11 slot receiver should provide a security blanket for McSorley or Callahan late in preseason games.
"It's possible Modster, who racked up 68 receptions at Boise State in 2018, will haul in six or seven catches in a Ravens exhibition. He has the ability to get open on third downs and wiggle away from would-be tacklers after catching the ball underneath the defense."
● Expect to see a lot of Trace McSorley tonight, and Zrebiec believes the rookie quarterback's stock is trending up. "It was widely believed that McSorley would need to contribute on special teams to justify the team keeping him as the third quarterback. That still might be the case, but if there's any uncertainty with Griffin's health, the Ravens have no choice but to keep McSorley."
● Bleacher Report named Jackson and Andrews as two of the biggest fantasy football sleepers this season.