Can Pass Rushers Silence Doubters? Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

Street Talk Can Pass Rushers Silence Doubters?

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The Ravens coaches and players are sick of talking about the team’s pass rush … or lack thereof.

Yet, it’s still one of the biggest questions surrounding the team heading into the regular-season opener against Miami.

“I’m certainly not as worried about it as you all are,” coach John Harbaugh said this week. “What little I read, it’s all I read about. So, I appreciate your concerns. We’ll see what happens.”

Much of the onus will be on linebacker Matthew Judon to help fill the void created by the loss of Za’Darius Smith (8.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (7 sacks). Judon was tied with Suggs for sacks last year, and the hope is defensive coordinator Don Martindale can put him in position to boost that number.

Judon is in the final year of his contract so he will be playing for a big payday at the end of the year, similar to Smith (four years, $66 million with the Packers). and C.J. Mosley (five years, $85 million with the Jets). The motivation is there for Judon, but does he have additional support, especially when opponents double-team him?

The Ravens were hoping Shane Ray, a former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, could resurrect his career in Baltimore. Ray failed his initial conditioning test, things did not get much better from there, and the Ravens terminated his contract on Aug. 30. 

Linebacker Pernell McPhee, who re-signed with the team after stints in Chicago and Washington, has been revitalized since arriving in Owings Mills. The team hopes McPhee can regain some of his production. He had a breakout season with the Ravens in 2014 with 7.5 sacks. His is low-risk, high-reward one-year deal was a no-brainer for the front office.

“Everybody likes Pernell. He’s a big-time leader,” Harbaugh said. 

[Related: What Does Pernell McPhee Bring to the Ravens?]

The Ravens are hopeful the light will finally go on for a pair of high 2017 drafts picks — Tyus Bowser (second round) and Tim Williams (third round). Neither player has made any impact with the pass rush.

Bowser and Williams entered training camp on the bubble, but each of them played well enough to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. Bowser has 3.5 career sacks, while Williams has two. Both of those players are going to need to play much better beginning Miami. 

The Ravens selected Jaylon Ferguson in the third round from Louisiana Tech. Ferguson holds the NCAA record for career sacks with 45, eclipsing the previous mark set by Suggs. He also has the versatility to line up inside or outside. After a slow start to training camp, Ferguson played better over the final two weeks and there is hope he can make an impact in his first year.

“I think this is Tyus Bowser’s best training camp that he’s had. I think this is Tim Williams’ best training camp that he’s had – just specifically talking about those two,” Martindale said. “But Jaylon Ferguson – you can really see in these past 10 days even – [he’s] really come on. And of course, ‘Phee’ [Pernell McPhee] – well, you guys don’t see practice – [but] he was in regular season form yesterday, so we’re excited about all those guys on the edge.” 

The Ravens boast one of the most talented secondaries in the league. That unit is still going to need support from the pass rush. The defensive backs are not overly worried about the situation.    

“I’m very confident in our pass rush,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “I’m confident in our ability to get after the quarterback. We’ve got guys that specialize in rushing the passer, and we’re depending on those guys. But the main part as a defensive back, obviously, is you want a good rush, but you’ve got to cover back there. 

“We have one of the best defensive back coaches in the NFL in Chris Hewitt, and he’s done a great job with all of us. ‘Plaster your coverage. Be in your spots whether in zone or whatever.’ But from a secondary standpoint, like I said, you always want a great pass rush, but it’s really up to us to cover.” 

If the Ravens can dominate a Miami offensive line that is currently in flux, then the questions about the pass rush will subside … for at least a week. 

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Todd Karpovich

About Todd Karpovich

Todd Karpovich has been a contributor for ESPN, the Associated Press, SportsXchange, the Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets nationwide. He is the co-author of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Baltimore Ravens Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box,” “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” and the author of “Manchester United (Europe's Best Soccer Clubs).” Karpovich lives in Towson with his wife, Jill, daughters, Wyeth and Marta, and a pair of dogs, Sarah and Rory. More from Todd Karpovich
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