The Ravens hoped that outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams would emerge as consistent pass rushers in this season after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency.
So far, that hasn’t materialized.
Neither Bowser nor Williams have a sack, and they have also been inconsistent defending the run. Baltimore’s pass rush has been spearheaded by veteran outside linebackers Matthew Judon (three sacks) and Pernell McPhee (two sacks), who have played consistently. However, Head Coach John Harbaugh made it clear Monday that he wants more from Bowser and Williams.
“They need to be better,” Harbaugh said. “We need to get more pressure, more sacks from those guys. They’ll probably tell you they need more reps. I would say earn more reps by doing something about it.”
Rookie pass rusher Jaylon Ferguson was active for his first game in Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but played just nine snaps and was shutout on the stat sheet.
“He was okay, he had a couple of mistakes like he jumped inside on a run that ran right around the edge that really hurt us,” Harbaugh said. “Tim did the same thing one time. Those are the things as a young guy you can’t do. I cut him (Ferguson) some slack because he’s a rookie. We’ll see how fast he learns. But those reps are definitely up for grabs. We’ll see who takes them.”
Judon played 85 percent of the defensive snaps Sunday, while McPhee played 82 percent. The Ravens don’t want the 30-year-old McPhee to wear down as the year progresses, which is another reason why the younger linebackers need to emerge.
“We need to give our older guys a break,” Harbaugh said. “They can’t be playing all those snaps all year. We want to play fast defense. We want to be rested and healthy. But none of those guys in my mind have stepped up and taken the reps yet. That’s disappointing. So we’ll see who’s the man for the job. The ball’s in their court.”
Coverage Breakdowns in Secondary Have Been Costly
The longest pass play in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs was an 83-yard touchdown connection from Patrick Mahomes to rookie Mecole Hardman. Baltimore had a miscommunication in pass coverage that left Hardman streaking alone down the middle off the field.
It was a relatively easy throw for Mahomes, and once the speedy Hardman made the catch, he was not going to be caught from behind. That touchdown staked the Chiefs to a 20-6 lead, and it was the second straight week that Baltimore surrendered a completion of more than 50 yards. In Week 2, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals made a 54-yard reception that led to a touchdown.
Harbaugh said the Ravens need to eliminate mistakes in the secondary that lead to big plays.
“We’ve had breakdowns two weeks in a row in different coverages,” Harbaugh said. “That’s not good. That’s what costs you big games when you’re playing good teams that are explosive as they are that can make those plays. We just can’t have it, our guys know it. Big plays are bad. They shouldn’t happen to our football team. We’re not the type of team that gives us big plays. We’re not happy about that at all. And that will get fixed. Three’s no question. Period. It will get fixed.”
Baltimore’s top nickel cornerback Tavon Young (neck) has been lost for the season, and veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) has missed the past two games. However, Harbaugh said the Ravens have the secondary depth to perform better. The Ravens have surrendered back-to-back 300-yard passing days to Kyler Murray of the Cardinals (349 yards) and Mahomes (374 yards).
“Tavon’s a heck of a nickel but he’s not here,” Harbaugh said. “We have other guys that can play the nickel spot and do a good job. Not having Jimmy hurts us so we’re down two really good players. But as you said, it’s not an excuse.”
Harbaugh Did Not Think Critical Call Against Jefferson Would Have Been Overturned
A questionable pass interference call against Tony Jefferson in the third quarter Sunday was critical, wiping out an interception by Brandon Carr. Instead of a turnover that would have ended Kansas City’s drive, the Chiefs scored three plays later on a screen pass to LeSean McCoy, giving them a 30-13 lead late in the third quarter.
Harbaugh didn’t think Jefferson committed pass interference, but he didn’t challenge the call. Based on the way replay challenges have been ruled this season, Harbaugh saw no way the call would be overturned.
“There’s no question it was a bad call in the heat of battle in my opinion,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s not what gets it overturned. They make the call they make, and you live with it. I know by every single one of those that’s been challenged so far in the preseason and the regular season, that (call) will not get overturned. It would’ve been a wasted challenge, 100 percent proven by the record to date.”
Ravens Play Three Straight AFC North Opponents
Hosting the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 begins a stretch of three straight games for the Ravens against AFC North opponents. Baltimore visits the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, then hosts the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6.
The Ravens (2-1) are the only team in the division above .500 and can take control of the division by winning their next three games.
“Every game is big, but these games I feel like they count for two games,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an opportunity to win one and have your opponent not win one. That’s big. The Browns are excellent, they have tremendous talent, they play very hard. You’ve seen this defense fly around, it’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’ll be fired up. We just go play good football, play our best football and be the Ravens.”