Fri, 04 Dec 2020

Joe Schiller

More Targets Ahead of the Trade Deadline

After acquiring Yannick Ngakoue, General Manager Eric DeCosta said the Ravens "are not finished building this team."

With just over one week until the Nov. 3 deadline, there's an expectation that Baltimore could make more moves.

"There are no specific rumblings going on right now but with DeCosta hinting at more to come, don't be shocked if the Ravens continue to be buyers at the NFL trade deadline," Ravens Wire's Matthew Steven wrote.

If the Ravens look to make more trades, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox said the biggest priority should be adding more targets for Lamar Jackson.

"What the Ravens should focus on is finding a reliable possession receiver who can help provide Jackson with easy downfield completions," Knox wrote. "While the Ravens rank dead-last in pass attempts, they also rank just 24th in yards per attempt. This suggests the team's modest passing numbers are not simply the result of scheme. Jackson has struggled to consistently create big plays with his arm, which he'll need to do if the Ravens again find themselves down against a contender."

Receiver seems to be the common position mentioned by pundits for the Ravens. Free-agent wide receiver Dez Bryant is expected to join the practice squad, but that hasn't happened yet and he hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since 2017.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said the theme for players available at the deadline are veterans due a lot of money. That includes receivers such as Golden Tate and Alshon Jeffrey. Rapoport reiterated that it's unlikely that A.J. Green or Julio Jones are traded.

"While it's always fun to throw around big names, a few to cross off are Falcons stars Matt Ryan and Jones," Rapoport wrote. "Source said neither will be traded at the deadline, despite the record and firing of Dan Quinn. Along with the fact that both would be very cap-unfriendly moves, one source described the rumored thought to be 'ridiculous.'"

If the Ravens want to add another burner on the outside, Ebony Bird's Michael Natelli looked at Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross III as a potential option. Ross, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has reportedly requested a trade, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

Ross has struggled with injuries early in his career and has just two catches for 17 yards this season. He caught 28 passes for 506 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

"Ross is not the X receiver that this offense is missing, but he does further build the 'track team' that DeCosta said he was building over the offseason, and his ability to take the top off defenses would give opposing defenses something else to worry about," Natelli wrote. "Ross has also been used in the kinds of unique packages and play calls that Roman likes to run, and could help the Baltimore offense take another step towards looking like it did at its peak a season ago.

"His minimal statistical output so far this year and expiring contract both make Ross another target that would come at a low cost for a Ravens team that already parted with two picks (including a 2021 third rounder) to acquire Ngakoue. Ross carries a ~$5.4-million cap hit for the 2020 season according to OverTheCap, but the Bengals would likely be willing to retain some of that in order to recoup some value for their former first-round pick."

Will the Ravens Blitz More or Less With Ngakoue?

There's been plenty of praise for the Ravens after acquiring Ngakoue. Now the question becomes, will it affect Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme?

The Ravens were the most blitz-heavy team under Martindale last season and that really hasn't changed. According to The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer, the Ravens only trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 44 percent blitz rate entering Week 7.

The addition of Ngakoue gives the Ravens the ability to create more pressure with a four-man rush, which is something ESPN's Marcus Spears believes is a huge benefit.

"They have to face these potent AFC offenses if they plan on getting to the Super Bowl," Spears said. "And now you add another guy that you can create a four-man rush with, find the one-on-ones and hopefully win them. ... You don't have to blitz as much. You can rush four guys and keep your guys in coverage.

"The move is about being able to get more guys to the quarterback and keeping more guys in coverage. ... To me this is huge. Third down, let alone all of the other downs, for you to be able to rush four guys and he can win the one-on-one."

Shaffer believes the addition of Ngakoue will assist other Ravens pass rushers like Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser.

"With Ngakoue's arrival, the Ravens can assemble a four-man pass rush that, on paper, shouldn't need much help," Shaffer added. "Judon is fifth in the NFL in ESPN's pass-rush win rate, which measures how often a pass rusher is able to beat his block within 2.5 seconds. (Martindale's blitz schemes likely help boost his success, but he's still winning more than a quarter of his pass-rush snaps.) Bowser has been unlucky not to get at least a few more sacks, and Ferguson has shown a strong bull rush."

Dialing up blitzes from almost any spot on the defense has been Martindale's calling card. In their Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens became the first team to ever have five defensive backs register a sack.

Now the Ravens can create more pressure with fewer players, something that plagued them against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.

An improved four-man rush would help one of the league's best secondaries lock down opposing passing attacks. Baltimore Beatdown's Spencer Schultz pointed out that Ngakoue has registered four of the NFL's 20 quickest sacks over the past four seasons.

"Ngakoue will open things up for Martindale," Schultz wrote. "While I believe any expectation for blitzing to reduce significantly is hyperbole, it will allow Martindale to feel more confident without as much noise and commotion necessary on the backend. Off-ball players won't need to be as 'deceptive' pre-snap all the time. The Ravens can kind of line up and cover a bit more. This will play to the strength of their three effective press man corners, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters."

ESPN's Dan Orlovsky doesn't think the Ravens will stop blitzing.

"I understand where you're coming from with Martindale, but he ain't going to change," Orlovsky said. "Those coordinators have 10 seconds to get their calls in. Those guys rely on instincts more often than not. He's not all of a sudden going to go, 'You know what? I'm not going to bring pressure as much.'"

In a more contrarian perspective, Orlovsky doesn't believe the Ngakoue addition will make a big difference against the Ravens' chief AFC foes.

"I look at the good offensive lines in the AFC," Orlovsky said. "Tennessee's offensive line in style and scheme-wise will minimize this. Indianapolis' offensive line is still better. Buffalo's offensive line is still good enough. Kansas City's offensive line is still good enough. And Pittsburgh's offensive line is good enough and their scheme of getting the ball out quick will minimize this. I don't think this move is as big a deal as people are making it."

As Spears said, "What world are we living in?"

Chris Hewitt Is the 'Unsung Hero' of the Coaching Staff

Head Coach John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Martindale have garnered plenty of recognition, but the talent on the Ravens' coaching staff goes far beyond them.

When asked who he thinks is the biggest unsung hero on the coaching staff, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said Pass Defense Coordinator Chris Hewitt.

"Hewitt has a lot of talent to work with, but the secondary has been one of the Ravens' strongest position groups the past couple of years and Hewitt deserves credit for that," Zrebiec wrote. "He's done a superb job developing young defensive backs like Marlon Humphrey, Chuck Clark, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett and Elliott. He's also gotten Marcus Peters to play with much more eye discipline since he came to Baltimore. If Martindale gets a head coaching opportunity this offseason, Hewitt would be a worthy choice to be his successor as Ravens' defensive coordinator."

Hewitt is in his second season in the role and has coached one of the NFL's best secondaries. The Ravens have allowed just 230.8 passing yards per game, and the defense has forced a turnover in 19 consecutive games.

Peters and Humphrey have played like the All-Pro selections they were last season. But as Zrebiec noted, perhaps the most impressive part has been Hewitt's ability working with the young defensive backs. After releasing Earl Thomas III and losing Tavon Young for the season, players such as Elliott and Averett (before his injury) have stepped up.

Quick Hits

The Ravens open as home favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8. The AFC North continues to play its best football. Any speculation about Antonio Brown joining the Ravens is gone after he signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw firmly believes Ngakoue is more than just a rental for the Ravens.

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