With the entirety of the 2017 starting defensive unit returning this season, we have a pretty solid understanding of what opposing offenses hoping to move the ball against them are in for. It won’t be pretty, that is unless you have a membership to Ravens Nation. Let’s take a look into the crystal ball and see what’s in store for Suggs and company.
1. Don “Wink” Martindale will solidify himself as one of the leagues premiere defensive minds by years end
Is it really possible for a coach entering only his second season as an NFL defensive coordinator to make the impression of a marquee defensive mind after only 32 games on the job? When taking into consideration the fact that his first gig as a defensive coordinator (back in 2010 with the Denver Broncos) lasted only one season and resulted in a league worst ranking in both points allowed and yards allowed, it doesn’t seem likely. But make no mistake, the Ravens 2018 unit are night and day when compared to the 2010 Broncos. This group has talent all over the roster. Wink has multiple playmakers at all three levels of the defense at his disposal, offering him astounding flexibility. He’s already received multiple votes of confidence from them.
“He’s ready for the challenge. He’s bringing a lot of different elements that we haven’t had.” – Eric Weddle
“He’s taking the handcuffs off the guys. Sometimes a player can be shackled just by the rules and confines of the defense. I think Wink is going to allow us to go make plays and be that fast-moving defense this city and our fans love” – Terrell Suggs
“You can relate to him. He can relate to you. He’s a players coach, definitely. Love everything he’s doing, all his concepts. It’s mind blowing actually… it’s amazing, it’s good stuff.” – Brandon Williams
So it seems the players are really taking to him. That confidence means the world. My personal opinion is that he’s a perfect fit for this personnel with his aggressive mindset and willingness to give a lot of freedom to a veteran defense. It’s gonna make all the difference, and his second stint as a defensive coordinator is gonna open a lot of eyes around the league. After all, as Martindale said himself, “I’ve been preparing for this job all my life… we were really good. Let’s make it great”.
2. The Ravens defense will finish the season top ten in every major statistical category
Yes, they were really good last year. But this year, they will be great. So great in fact that they will finish top ten in points allowed, yards allowed (rushing, passing and total), sacks, and takeaways. What’s gonna make the difference? After all, it’s essentially the exact same personnel minus Lardarius Webb. Well, not to sound like a broken record here, but it’s the coaching. As I quoted earlier, Terrell Suggs referred to Martindale “taking the handcuffs off the guys”. That shouldn’t be taken lightly. It speaks volumes in terms of what the leader of this defense thought about the play calling last season. This unit had the perfect blend of talent and veteran leadership to accomplish said feat last season and with new freedoms and the aggressive approach that this defense warrants, it will happen this season.
NOTE: I actually wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them finish top 5 in some of these categories. I almost expect it but there are some very good defenses currently dominating the league as well.
3. At least four defensive starters will be Pro Bowl selections
For the Ravens to accomplish bold prediction number two, one would have to believe that there will be a lot of guys headed to the Pro Bowl. I won’t predict who those guys will be, but I see eight of the eleven starters as possibilities: Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams, Matt Judon, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle. Half of these guys will be named Pro Bowlers. Whether they actually accept that invitation or not remains to be seen, because who watches the Pro Bowl anymore nowadays anyways? Plus, they’ll probably be a little busy preparing for the Super Bowl.
4. The combination of Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Tavon Young will be the leagues best cornerback trio
I wrote an article last week that discussed the possibility of this coming to fruition. The conclusion I reached was that the trio wasn’t the favorite heading into the season but certainly should be considered a dark horse in the race. Well, reports are that Tavon Young looks like him old self thus far in OTAs and that Jimmy Smith appears on schedule for a week one return to the lineup. So I’m going all in on this one. This trio should be downright nasty this year and, for opposing quarterbacks, it’s very much a ‘pick your poison’ scenario. I’m guessing the Ravens defense will see it’s fair share of passes over the middle of the field to tight ends and running backs.
5. Willie Henry will lead the team in defensive line snaps
When I was coming up with this list I thought this was a pretty bold prediction. Well, what if I were to tell you that the team leader in defensive line snaps last season was none other than… Willie Henry! That’s right. Henry lined up for a total of 597 snaps, 55.6% of the total defensive snaps. Henry edged out Michael Pierce by three snaps. What if I also told you that he was second on the entire defense in pass rush grade per Pro Football Focus at 75.9 (trailing only Terrell Suggs’ 83.4 mark)? I mean, I knew the guy looked good getting after quarterbacks, but better than Judon?
I expect even more snaps out of him in 2018, and more quarterback pressures as well. This is a player whose star is rapidly rising, and I see his name being nationally known after this year. He’ll play a large role on the defense this year, particularly when it comes to applying pressure up the middle. I don’t think seven sacks is out of the question for Henry. I also expect him to have a lot of sack assists, flushing the quarterback out of the pocket and into the arms of Suggs and company.
So that does it for Ravens bold defensive predictions. We’d love to hear from the readers and what they envision for the defense this season. Be sure to comment below with predictions of your own! Only 93 days left Ravens Nation. Or as Terrell Suggs would put it, 93. More. Sleeps.