By Ben Holmes
Intern with 105.7 The Fan
The Baltimore Ravens have always been synonymous with defensive pressure, particularly on the quarterback. However, over recent seasons, the tough, defensive stigma of the franchise has faded to a certain extent.
Though some may speculate the defensive downturn is a correlation of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leaving the ball club, the overwhelmingly true reason for the falls through defensive ranks is an issue of talent.
Contrary to the last few seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens seem to finally have more than enough supreme talent in the front seven’s starting rotation, as well as solid depth behind the starters.
I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, that’s what they said last year.”
Sort of. I’ll explain the reasons for excitement.
After acquiring Elvis Dumervil through a chaotic series of events in 2013, general manager Ozzie Newsome was able to pair two consistent, pro-bowl pass-rushers together in purple in black, something the Ravens had missed since Trevor Pryce joined Suggs and Co. in 2006.
(Remember when the Ravens had a consistent top-five defense from 2003-2007, only for it to be wasted by Kyle Boller’s awful play? Those were the days).
The defensive ends may be the most flashy, well-known players within the front seven, but if you’ve watched enough Ravens football the last few years, it had become painfully clear that interior run defense had gotten increasingly worse. Seeing mediocre teams and running backs consistently moving the chains via the run game was a strange sight for Ravens Nation.
Where has that problem been addressed? Through the draft, of course. Though Terrence Cody has pretty much proven to be a bust, second-year player Brandon Williams from Missouri-Southern has seemingly impressed everyone in the Castle since arriving in 2013.
Another reason to anticipate better interior defense in 2014 is the best free-agency acquisition of last year-Chris Canty. Although Canty is listed as a defensive end on the depth chart, he’s certainly versatile enough to play defensive tackle, and he plays it well. What’s more, Canty is a huge veteran presence, and another year in Dean Peas’ system will do a world of good. (Let’s just forget about the Marcus Spears experiment, as it was a low-risk signing).
In addition, I have always been a huge Pernell McPhee fan, rightfully or not. He seems to be in the right place in crucial situations (such as the tipped pass in the AFC Championship game against New England). My larger point with McPhee being that players of his caliber are further down the depth chart, giving the Ravens a rotation of fresh players with as much talent as starters on other teams.
Another example of that impressive depth is outside-linebacker Courtney Upshaw. Entering his third season as a pro, Upshaw looks to drop some weight and become a faster pass-rusher. Though his ceiling may just be a renaissance linebacker who is solid at both the pass and the run. Along with Canty, he’s the clear spell-man for the Suggs/Dumervil duo, and the Ravens could do a lot worse at third and fourth end.
Perhaps the biggest positive changeover from last season to this year is Baltimore’s linebacking core. Starting with the Middle Linebacker position, Daryl Smith has cemented himself as not only a Ravens leader, but perhaps a top-three player on the defensive unit.
The second-year player from Kansas State, Arthur Brown, has another year at middle linebacker under his belt, and Peas’ staff likes his potential. Combine that with newly drafted first-rounder C.J. Mosely from Alabama, and the Ravens look to have one of the youngest, talented up-and-coming middle duos in football behind Smith.
What’s more, Cutting Jameel McClain wasn’t a shock, as both Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan seem to be two of John Harbaugh’s young favorites as well.
Outside backer John Simon, a rookie from last season, and defensive end/tackle DeAngelo Tyson did not see much time on the field last year, but again, that’s more a product of the production from the players in front of them rather than a subpar performance from those two players.
So, why is this concept of front seven depth so important to the Ravens? Let’s just look within the AFC. The Broncos, Patriots, Colts, and Steelers all run no-huddle offenses quite frequently. We know by now that a huge challenge presented to defenses in this league is staying fresh, not fatigued, especially with rapid-paced offenses.
The Ravens are looking to stop these attacks much better than the last couple of years. With a solid rotation of defensive linemen and backers in place, the Ravens seem to be poised to get back to the old style and energy of Ravens defense, which could be scary.
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