Much has been written and discussed about the seemingly overnight demise of the Baltimore Ravens defense.
A team that once had a solid rotation of serviceable interior linemen; developed linebackers like the Atlanta Braves once developed pitchers; and an opportunistic secondary that took advantage of the front-7’s ability to make opposing offenses one dimensional – all suddenly MIA.
The team cannot generate a pass rush; the defensive “anchors” up front, once immovable objects at the point of attack allowing linebackers to clean up, are now pushed back like they are playing on skates.
Linebackers either undrafted or long in the tooth have opted to lighten up as part of an effort to adapt to the increasingly popular no-huddle offenses.
Mix these slimmed down players who comparatively speaking are more like slow, bloated safeties with a movable line and you get the NFL’s 27th ranked rushing defense. Without the ability to manage down-and-distance or disrupt the quarterback the Ravens have the 23rd ranked pass defense.
Where will the help come from going forward?
“Personnel-wise, there’s not a whole lot you can do, really”, said John Harbaugh during his Monday presser.
“I like our players. Our players are most definitely good enough to get the job done, and we’ll just continue to improve there. Does that mean young guys? We’re going to keep developing the young guys, and as those guys emerge, sure, they are going to get an opportunity.”
So who are these “young guys”?
The question begged a little Ravens’ draft history research since the arrival of Harbaugh in 2008 (see chart below).
Of the Ravens 39 draft picks under Harbaugh 34 (87%) are still active in the NFL and 28 (72%) are still with the team (Sergio Kindle and Tommy Streeter on the practice squad). Defensive picks account for 44% of the total number of picks and of the picks taken in the top 3 rounds, 8 of 17 (47%) were on defense.
Those 7 defensive picks include: Tavares Gooden; Tom Zbikowski; Paul Kruger; Lardarius Webb; Sergio Kindle; Terrence Cody; Jimmy Smith; and Courtney Upshaw.
Only Webb has made a serious impact but he will now miss nearly 2 of his first 4 seasons due to ACL injuries. The jury is still out on Smith. Upshaw shows great promise but the other five have done next to nothing, one of which is long gone to brother Jim in San Francisco (Gooden) and another left with former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano for Indianapolis (Zbikowski).
For years the Ravens featured a dominant defense while struggling offensively. The investment was obviously made in the draft to change that but in doing so, the team allowed it’s lifeblood (defense), it’s identity to erode, depending upon serviceable free agents and undrafted defenders to plug the holes.
It worked for awhile, but the one constant in it all – the player who helped elevate the play of journeymen players, the Michael Jordan of NFL defense, Ray Lewis isn’t there anymore and even when he was as of late, he was a mere shadow of what he used to be.
Turning this thing around on defense for the Ravens is going to be a tall task. Dean Pees clearly has his work cut out for him and let’s face it, he hasn’t been a very good play caller.
Maybe the coaching staff will hit on the right combination of players that can gel together. But finding that combination could cost games and time – time that in the end the Ravens might not have enough of.
We’ll see over the course of the next 9 games what the Ravens can put together. But given the extreme defensive deficiencies and the lack of investment on that side of the ball, every player on that 53-man squad and every coach in the building at 1 Winning Drive are going to have to reach down and overachieve between the lines.
Otherwise this season will be a lot shorter than the one we all expected.
Ravens Draft Picks During the John Harbaugh Era
Draft chart provided by DraftHistory.com