The Baltimore Ravens are in a good position right now, at 5-2 entering their bye week with a two-and-a-half game lead in their division. While they have lost some notable components to their roster, including starting safety Tony Jefferson, they have been able to supplement, as with the acquisition of Marcus Peters, a Pro Bowl cornerback.
While they impressed over the weekend with a comfortable victory over the hitherto 5-1 Seattle Seahawks, on the road, though, they took another hit to their defensive unit, now losing edge defender Pernell McPhee for the remainder of the season.
Baltimore has actually been largely sustained by its offense so far this season, particularly the ground game, with quarterback Lamar Jackson currently the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher, and Mark Ingram leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
In other words, there hasn’t been nearly as much of the burden placed on the defensive side of the ball so far this year for the Ravens’ overall team success as there has been historically. Nevertheless, a blow to the outside linebacker group was one that they could ill afford.
The team’s pass rush was already sub-par for the most part this season. They have recorded just 12 sacks as a team in seven games, which is tied for the eighth-fewest in the NFL. Four of those, for the team lead, belong to Matthew Judon, but McPhee was second on the team with three sacks.
In an offseason in which Baltimore lost both team legend Terrell Suggs and then the promising Za’Darius Smith (who is now having a career year for the Green Bay Packers), they put pressure on themselves to find veteran help.
They came up with McPhee, who broke into the league in Baltimore, and Shane Ray, a former first-round draft pick. Ray didn’t make the final 53-man roster, but McPhee did, taken in as not only a starter but also a leader on defense, which his prior experience on the team.
Now a lot will fall upon the shoulders of third-year Tyus Bowser, a former second-round pick who has five and a half sacks in his career, including two this season. There is also rookie Jaylon Ferguson, who has not played much so far this season.
The Ravens have been able to largely sustain themselves on offense, but it’s unclear if this is a championship-level defense. They rank 16th in points allowed and 26th in passing yards allowed. If they are not generating enough pressure, will the injuries they have sustained on the back end ultimately catch up with them?
Their next test is against the New England Patriots, who have the best defense in the league right now. It’s hard to imagine them coming away with an offense-driven victory from that one.