There wasn’t a part of the Ravens’ roster that improved more immediately this past offseason than the front seven, and to a larger extent, the pass rush.
They traded for defensive lineman Calais Campbell and signed Derek Wolfe. They drafted inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first and third rounds, respectively, of the NFL Draft. And most importantly, they placed the franchise tag on edge rusher Matthew Judon, who led the team in sacks with 9.5 last season.
But through the first three games, their pass rush has increasingly become a problem. So much so that coach John Harbaugh was asked about adding a pass rusher to the team on Wednesday.
“I haven’t been given a name or an option on that,” Harbaugh said. “I haven’t heard anything about that at this point — no. I’m sure if something comes up along those lines, I’m sure (Ravens General Manager) Eric (DeCosta) will let me know.”
In Monday’s loss to the Chiefs, the Ravens didn’t sack Patrick Mahomes once and put a hit on him just four times. And through the first three weeks of the season, the pass rush has shown some worrying trends beyond Monday’s game.
They’ve got six sacks, which ranks 21st in the league, but for as much as the Ravens invested in their defensive line over the offseason, it’s not been what the team has expected.
Tyus Bowser is the only edge rusher with a sack and leads the team with two. Defensive backs DeShon Elliott, Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey have combined for two sacks.
In fact, just three of the team’s sacks have come from defensive linemen or outside linebackers. The team does have 23 quarterback hits, but they’ve not gotten home as much as they’d like to in the first three weeks.
Judon, who signed a $16.8 million franchise tag this offseason, is yet to have a sack. Through three games, he’s got just three quarterback hits.
Against the Chiefs, the Ravens’ front was powerless to stop one of the game's best in Mahomes.
“They schemed-up some good plays where he was able to sprint out and kind of make his own space in the pocket,” defensive lineman Brandon Williams said. “When we were able to be around him and kind of cage him in, it was tough bringing him down. It’s just getting back to basics — working on our tackling, working on our grabbing, working on just getting back to Ravens football.”
Last year, after back-to-back poor performances by the defense against the Chiefs and Browns, the Ravens brought in inside linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes to help solidify the front seven.
The additions of Jihad Ward, Justin Ellis and Domata Peko Sr. aided the front seven as well, as the Ravens were able to patch up the unit for the 14-2 season. Now, while it’s still early, the pass rush is becoming a bigger and bigger issue that could use a 2019-esque patch.
For a defensive coordinator like Don “Wink” Martindale, who blitzes more than anyone in the league, dialing up pressure isn’t going to be an issue moving forward. But with the unit the Ravens have, getting to the quarterback without blitzing is the expectation.
Over the next three weeks, however, it’s unlikely the Ravens will learn much about their pass rush. The Washington Football team has given up 10 sacks, the Bengals have given up 14 and the Eagles have given up 11. Meaning, the Ravens are about to face likely their easiest stretch of offensive line play throughout the season.
If the Ravens learn anything significant about their front seven in the next three weeks, it will almost certainly be a negative lesson.
“So, one game is not going to change who we are or change what we do,” Williams continued. “We’re going to still keep coming after people. We’re still going to keep playing our game. That’s who we are; we’re Ravens. We’re going to just tighten up some things and get back to the basics.”