As I said in my article looking at the team’s offensive line heading into 2013 last week, despite winning a Super Bowl, this is a Ravens team which is plenty of areas they can, and need to, upgrade if they want to successfully defend the Lombardi Trophy.
After looking at that offensive line, let’s switch to the opposite side of the trenches, where perhaps the team’s biggest defensive need is lurking right in the middle of the line.
Hands up in you think it’s acceptable for a man Terrence Cody’s size to be driven five yards downfield by a single offensive lineman?
Yeah, me neither.
In his time in the league, Cody has shown very little in terms of improvement and, at this stage, I really fail to see what he brings to the table to warrant even a small role on the team’s defense in 2013 and beyond. He gets little in the way of penetration and simply isn’t good enough to command double teams from opposing offensive lines despite his size.
To combat his limitations the team brought in Ma’ake Kemoeatu prior to the start of the season and, despite improving his play in the postseason, he too offered little resistance in the middle of the defensive line. He’s a free agent himself and it’s tough to see the Ravens making any serious efforts to bring him back given his age and struggles for much of 2012.
That leaves the team in the market for at least one new player at the position this offseason. In free agency they could look to bring Aubrayo Franklin back to Baltimore. Bouncing from team to team for the past three years, Franklin could be had for a bit of a bargain this March and with 16 of his 18 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop in San Diego, he’s shown he can still play.
If they don’t look at someone like Franklin in Free Agency – or even if they do – it wouldn’t shock me to see them target a guy like Alabama’s Jesse Williams in the draft. Either way, the team needs to upgrade the middle of that defensive line if they want to improve their run defense.
On paper the defensive ends in the Ravens 3-4 defensive front, Haloti Ngata, Art Jones and Pernell McPhee, all had good seasons, but when you dig into their play a little bit more, there is plenty of room to upgrade the position this offseason. I’m a big fan of McPhee, and I’m willing to ignore his struggles early in 2012 due to injury – he did come on well late in the season to his credit.
But two seasons into the league, I just don’t know if McPhee is a guy I can count on for 40 or more snaps per game. His best work has come as a situational inside pass rusher and, while he showed he could play against the run in flashes this past year, I just don’t know if I’m ready to hang my hat on him every down yet.
Jones had a fantastic second half of the season, where he showed that he could be that 40 snap or more guy, stepping up both against the run and as a pass rusher. I didn’t expect that level of play out of him and, while I was highly impressed, I’d like to see him do it for longer than half a season before I feel 100% confident there.
Ngata is a fantastic player, and one of the most important players on the Ravens defense, but when you look at his play, there is no denying he has had his struggles in the second half of the past two seasons. He played 1,071 snaps in the regular season and two postseason games and, while he rebounded to play well in the playoffs, he was largely anonymous for between Weeks 7 and 15 – except of course for the game against the Redskins where he made it his personal mission to harass RGIII. I’m not trying to make the case for Ngata not having a big role to play, I’m more just wondering if he wouldn’t be better if the Ravens tried to reduce his workload, even just a little, early in the season.
That leaves the team with a decision to make. Do they think DeAngelo Tyson can step up in 2013, giving them four defensive ends to rotate, or do they think they need to add another role player or two in the offseason?
If they look to free agency, players like Mike Devito and former Raven Justin Bannan are good defenders against the run who could fly under the radar and be had on the cheap. Either way the team has plenty of choices to upgrade the defensive line, starting smack bang in the middle with the running lane known as Terrance Cody.