After watching the Broncos advance to the Super Bowl, here’s a thought on Sunday’s AFC championship from a Ravens perspective.
Improving their pass rush should be the Ravens’ top priority. Peyton Manning isn’t the main reason the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl. The main reason is their defense, and that defense is led by their pass rush.
The Broncos treated Patriots quarterback Tom Brady like a piñata Sunday, hitting him 20 times, the most any quarterback has been hit in any game all season.
This wasn’t an anomaly. It’s how the Broncos do business. The Broncos led the NFL in sacks this season with 52. And the next five teams in sacks all made the playoffs – Patriots (49), Steelers (48), Chiefs (47), Texans (45), and Panthers (44).
The Ravens were way down that list, tied for 17th in sacks with 37. They need to get back to being a team that harasses quarterbacks on a regular basis. A relentless pass rush bothers every quarterback, whether it’s Brady, Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or anyone else. A relentless pass rush also makes every secondary better. A more consistent pass rush would have eliminated some of the big plays that burned the Ravens’ defense in 2015.
So how do the Ravens improve their pass rush? Sure, they must hope linebacker Terrell Suggs returns to being an elite pass rusher when he returns from Achilles surgery. But they can’t count on that, especially with Suggs turning 34 years old in October.
The draft is the most obvious way for the Ravens to address their pass rushing needs. Holding the No. 6, pick, the Ravens could have a shot at a pass-rusher Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, even if Ohio St. defensive end Joey Bosa and Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner are already off the board. My colleague Ben Standig has the Ravens taking Lawson with the No. 6 pick in his latest mock draft.
The Ravens saw late-season improvement in outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who had 3 ½ of his 5 ½ sacks during the season’s final three weeks. Smith, Elvis Dumervil, and a hopefully-healthy Suggs give the Ravens a pass-rushing nucleus to start with.
Yes, the Ravens need playmakers and could use a cover corner. But after losing lineback Pernell McPhee in free agency last season, and with Suggs and Dumervil on the plus side of 30, the Ravens need to acquire at least one pass rusher who will help them next season. For the Ravens to get to the playoffs in 2016, they need to get to opposing quarterbacks more often.