Ravens Pass Rush Is a Problem – For Opponents


The Ravens don't have a pass rushing problem. Opposing quarterbacks have a problem with the Ravens' pass rush.

Some had it twisted before the season, thinking Baltimore would have trouble generating pressure on quarterbacks after the loss of Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs during free agency. Not true. Baltimore punished Bills quarterback Josh Allen on Sunday, sacking him six times and hitting him 12 times during a 24-17 victory.

It was reminiscent of Week 11 against the Houston Texans, when the Ravens gave a similar beatdown to DeShaun Watson, sacking him seven times during a 41-7 victory.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon is the leader of Baltimore's pass rush with a team-high 8½ sacks after Sunday's 1 ½-sack performance. His strip sack of Allen set up Baltimore's first touchdown, and Judon was so pumped up after Sunday's victory, he felt the urge to break out in song leaving the field.

Judon's enthusiasm is understandable, with the Ravens (11-2) riding a nine-game winning streak. But the pass rush isn't all about Judon, or about other pass rushers like rookie Jaylon Ferguson, who are winning one-on-one battles up front.

Batlimore's blitz packages have been a major part of the pass rush equation. Through 13 games, Baltimore has blitzed on 47.7 percent of its defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. That's more than 7 percent more blitzing than the next closest team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40.5 percent).

The Ravens didn't wait to see if they could create pressure on Allen. They forced the pressure, with Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale dialing up so many blitzes that even his own players were surprised. Safety Earl Thomas said the Ravens' were in cover-zero defense "quite a lot," including the first play of the game and the last.

"I wasn't (surprised), because he told us (to expect a lot of blitzes earlier in the week)," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "But even in the game, we were like, "We're blitzing on this?' It worked out."

Martindale has license to be daring, able to send five, six, or seven players after the quarterback, knowing the Ravens have cornerbacks who can handle one-on-one coverage. The midseason trade for Marcus Peters has given Baltimore the deepest cornerback room in the NFL with Peters joining Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.

Peters made the game-clinching pass breakup on Buffalo's final drive, deflecting Allen's pass intended for former Ravens wide receiver John Brown.

Baltimore may not always get to the quarterback in conventional fashion, but they are getting there in Ravens' fashion. With such a talented secondary, the Ravens can take chances with their blitz that other teams can't, and that was part of the strategy against Allen.

"You can't let Josh just stand back and throw, of course; he's got such a great arm," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "As a quarterback, he's a really talented, gifted guy. I really like him. That was a big part of the plan was trying to put pressure on him."

Opponents can't be sure how many Ravens will rush the quarterback, or which direction those players will come from. Six different Ravens had at least ½ sack against Buffalo – Judon, Ferguson, Thomas, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, and linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes.

"They had some smart savvy dudes that know how to play different positions and they can bring it from all over," Allen said. "They have some old veterans in the back end too that can play good coverage."

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Brandon Williams is dominating up front, often occupying two offensive linemen and creating rushing lanes for teammates to exploit. Williams didn't have a sack Sunday, but he shared the team high in tackles (seven) with Thomas.

The Ravens face a quick turnaround this week, hosting the New York Jets on Thursday night. After giving up more than 500 yards in Weeks 3 & 4, Baltimore's defense was ranked 27th in the NFL. It is now ranked No. 6 overall, and their pass rush is part of the reason for the turnaround.

"It's a good defense. It's a veteran defense," Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott said. "They've got good players on their defense. They're ranked where they are for a reason."

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