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Matt Judon and Patrick Onwuasor are ready to carry on the reputation of the Ravens defense

Matt Judon and Patrick Onwuasor are ready to carry on the reputation of the Ravens defense

No Terrell Suggs. No CJ Mosely. Where does the Ravens defense go from here?

As the 2019 season began, that was one of the biggest question marks surrounding Baltimore's tenacious front. Not only did Suggs move to Arizona and Mosley's signing with the Jets mean the Ravens were losing two talented players, but they also were losing vocal leaders as well.

On defense, having someone who can rally, inspire and communicate with the unit is sometimes just as important as having guys that can make the tackles. So with two of those key guys gone, who was going to step up in 2019?

The answer lied within a pair of players from the 2016 class: Patrick Onwuasor and Matt Judon.

When Onwuasor, who is referred to often as "Peanut"  broke into the league that year, it was hard for even him to imagine being in the position he now finds himself in. An undrafted safety from Portland State, Onwuasor had never even planned on being a linebacker, much less the guy who was going to take over for CJ Mosely.

“No," Onwuasor said when asked if he ever pictured being in this spot. "I just know I had a role and whatever my role was, I was going to get the job done, and now this is my role and I’m going to try and get it done.”

His new role revolves around the No. 1 inside linebacker position on the defense. With that comes being the mic, meaning he'll be the main communicator on the defense. As someone who has only has three seasons under his belt and has never started all 16 games, he's quickly transformed into the veteran everyone is looking to.

If that's not intimidating enough, he's got some big shoes to fill. The four-time Pro Bowler CJ Mosley was a constant force in the middle of the Ravens' defense during his five years in Baltimore. Recording at least 100 tackles in four of the five campaigns and providing a steady voice in the huddle, doing what Mosley didn't is by no means an easy task.

However, even if Onwuasor could have never predicted he'd be that guy for the Ravens, he spent his first three years preparing like it. Because of that, the moment isn't too big for him.

“Me coming here my rookie year, it could have been at any time. I followed CJ’s role, I learned," Onwuasor said.

“That was our goal. Kind of be quiet and listen and learn for this moment in case it ever happened. And it did happen, so I feel like we were prepared for that," he added.

That attitude and confidence to jump into a crucial spot on the defense have his teammates believing in him as well.

“Peanut my guy, man," Judon said. "We roomed together when we first got here. He’s going to be a great leader for us. He knows how to make plays, big plays, and he’s been doing since he’s been here. I got all the confidence in Peanut, and I’m right there behind him.”

Technically, Judon will be in front of Peanut when they take the field together, but the outside linebacker will be another fourth-year player stepping into a larger leadership role.

Much like Onwausor, who he shared a bunk within 2016, the fifth-round pick never really pictured himself being a role model for others on the defense to look up to. But, as he's working hard and establishing himself as a vital part of the pass rush, he's become just that.

“You really can’t imagine this," Judon said. "You just put the work in every day, and it just compounds on each other, and you get here.”

For Judon, being a leader doesn't mean changing who he is. A fun-loving, quick-witted player who loves to troll with his teammates, he's taken advice from past leader Suggs on how to thrive in the role. It all stems from continuing to be himself.

“I’m going to lead by example, and if we need a vocal leader I can be that too," Judon said. "But I’m just going to be me."

Together, the two are ready to take their place on the defense. While they understand that it is up to them to lead, they'll also be working to instill the same type of characteristics in the younger players. 

To help the team in the present and the future, they want everyone to be someone to look toward in their own way.

“What we’re trying to do is build more leadership. If we could count on each other, I feel like that could get us going instead of like one person trying to fire everybody up," Onwuasor said. "If everybody is motivated, I feel like we could catch a quick spark like that as well.”

With that, Judon, Onwauasor and the rest of the defense will look to continue on the tradition and mentality that has been instilled on that side of the ball. Even as the names change on the defense, they're ready to make sure the stigma never does.

“It’s a reputation that we gotta standby. Being tough, mean. When you step on that grass, you want to put fear in the opponent's eyes and let them know we’re not the ones to play with," Onwuasor said. "I think we gotta keep that legacy going and just being tough and physical.”

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

Former Ravens and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement from coaching Monday afternoon, just a day after Tennessee lost in the AFC Championship Game to Kansas City.

Pees, at age 70, had just finished his 47th year of coaching. He had previously been a coordinator for the Titans, Ravens and Patriots at the NFL level. He began coaching at the University of Findlay (OH) in 1979 as a defensive coordinator where he rose through the college ranks. 

Pees was in Baltimore from 2010-2017, where he started as a linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. He won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.

During his time as a coordinator, the Ravens ranked in the top 10 of scoring defenses three times, where he saw franchise greats like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed end their careers.

Pees’ defense in Tennessee this season stiffened down the stretch, as it allowed just 25 total points in the first two playoff games against New England and Baltimore. The Titans lost 35-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, Pees led his defenses to a top 12 finish in points allowed.

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