The Ravens offense has been under scrutiny for much of the season, and since the 2016 campaign ended, most of the talk has focused on how to fix it moving forward.
The lack of a run game, Joe Flacco‘s struggles and offensive coordinators that were too in love with passing all contributed to the team’s downfall in 2016. With Marty Mornhinweg back on board and Steve Smith Sr. retiring, Ravens fans are already nervous about next season’s offense.
However, the defense cannot and should not avoid shouldering their fair share of the blame after an up and down season under defensive coordinator Dean Pees. While their stats – 9th in points allowed, 7th in yards allowed, 9th vs. the pass and 5th against the run – were among the league’s best, they left a lot to be desired in several key areas. Holes to fix moving forward include – stop us if you’ve heard this one before – a much-needed edge pass rusher and better secondary depth.
“I think it goes first to the two young guys that we have and getting them better – Matt [Judon] and Za’Darius [Smith],” responded GM Ozzie Newsome when asked if it was a priority to upgrade his organization’s aging pass rush.
“But unless … Except for last year, if you are picking in the Top 4 or 5 of the draft, you can get that elite pass rusher. [Joey] Bosa went third last year.
“But yes, anybody that can affect the passer – that would definitely help us on defense. If that player becomes available, whether it is by draft, whether it is by trade – all the different ways you can get one – because we have gotten guys through different manners.
“Anybody that can affect the passer, we would definitely like to have them.”
Will Suggs Continue to Sizzle?
The defense, led by Terrell Suggs (8), posted 31 sacks during the 2016 season. Only four teams – New Orleans, Kansas City, the Jets, and Cleveland – had fewer.
“We went through personnel meetings last Thursday, and I think both from the coaching side and from the personnel side, we all want ‘Sizz’ back,” said Newsome when asked about Suggs’ return. “But ‘Sizz’ brings another element, not only with his performance on the field, but with his leadership.
“As [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] says, ‘When ‘Sizz’ is at practice, practice is different. When he’s not, then it’s different.’ You’re talking about a guy that played with two injuries at the end of the year – he had the biceps and he had the elbow – and he was still out there giving 100 percent.
“He’s had some great discussions with John about what his plans are for this offseason, but we expect him to be back.”
While Suggs, who will turn 35 next October, played admirably, it would be unwise for the team to rely on him to provide the kind of pressure he has historically. We all know that a lack of pressure up front has ripple effects throughout the defense, a problem that became especially glaring down the stretch.
Secondary Again a Primary Concern
Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger had far too much time to throw in key December losses. And once they did get rid of the ball, the lack of quality depth of the Ravens secondary was exposed, especially after Jimmy Smith exited the New England game with an injury – his final snap of the season.
The team needs to again bolster their defensive backfield this offseason. Last year’s addition of safety Eric Weddle was solid and the veteran safety instantly made the unit better. However there’s still plenty of work to do in the secondary, despite the team being tied for the league lead with 18 interceptions.
It’s obvious by now that they can’t count on Jimmy Smith to stay healthy for an entire season. Rookie cornerback Tavon Young showed promise but is young and raw and perhaps better suited for a slot corner role than on the outside. After Young, the depth chart doesn’t exactly make opposing quarterbacks shake in their cleats.
Throw in the loss of secondary coach Leslie Frazier, who was hired as the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, and the secondary is, once again, a primary concern.
So although Ravens fans want to know the identity of the offense moving forward, the brain trust at 1 Winning Drive knows that they cannot overlook the defense this offseason either.
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