New Season, Same Goal: Ravens Want To Be NFL's Best Defense

Unit has to fill the void of several key players that left via free agency.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is not going to back down from the expectations.

Baltimore has a long, storied history of shutting down opponents and was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season for overall defense.

Those goals won't change despite some key losses this offseason.

“I shouldn’t be standing here if we don’t want to be the best," Martindale said. "I think that there’s a standard here, always has been here since way back when. Everybody knows the stats, and we know where the standard is at. Like I said last week, I was really pleased with where we were at in the preseason. I thought that we played fast, and we were physical, and we tackled well, and that’s all the staples, if you will, of having a good defense and starting off the month of September right.”

The Ravens lost its two top pass rushers -- Za’Darius Smith (8.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (7 sacks) -- this offseason. Fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was the leader of the defense and relayed the plays from the sideline, also left to sign with the Jets with a massive five-year, $85 million deal.

The pass rush has been one of the biggest question marks heading into this season. Nonetheless, the Ravens are confident with the current personnel.

“I’m certainly not as worried about it as you all are,” coach John Harbaugh said. “What little I read, it’s all I read about. So, I appreciate your concerns. We’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens will rely heavily on Matthew Judon to pick up the slack. He was tied with Suggs for sacks last year. Judon is in the final year of his contract so he is extra motivation, playing for a big payday at the end of the year.

Martindale is confident linebacker Pernell McPhee will boost the pass rush. McPhee re-signed with the Ravens this offseason after stints in Chicago and Washington. He had one of his best seasons with the Ravens in 2014, finishing with 7.5 sacks and the team is hopeful he can be effective this season.

A pair of third-year players, Tyus Bowser, a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and Tim Williams (third round), have played well throughout training camp after enduring a couple of disappointing seasons. The Ravens also picked up Jaylon Ferguson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft from Louisiana Tech. He holds the NCAA record for career sacks with 45, eclipsing the previous mark set by Suggs.

“I think this is Tyus Bowser’s best training camp that he’s had. I think this is Tim Williams’ best training camp that he’s had – just specifically talking about those two,” Martindale said. “But Jaylon Ferguson – you can really see in these past 10 days even – [he’s] really come on. And of course, ‘Phee’ [Pernell McPhee] – well, you guys don’t see practice – [but] he was in regular season form yesterday, so we’re excited about all those guys on the edge.”

While there are questions surrounding the pass rush, the Ravens secondary should be among the best in the league. The Ravens signed safety Earl Thomas to replace Eric Weddle, who was released after the 2018 season. He will start opposite Tony Jefferson. The Ravens lost Tavon Young to a neck injury, but they are still deep at cornerback and should be able to absorb the setback with Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith.

The Ravens will have a clearer picture of their revamped defense beginning with regular-season opener Sept. 8 in Miami.

“I think we have one of the deepest rosters there is, so what we do, I’m not going to say right now," Martindale said. "But I’m confident with whoever goes into the game right now on defense, with whoever we dress on Sunday. We talk about the heat, and I think everybody wants to talk about the heat. Could it be any hotter than what it was when we were in Philadelphia?

"I saw some giraffes and elephants going up and down the sideline, it was so hot. So yeah, it gets hot down in Florida. It does, especially if that grass gets wet. That’s where the humidity – you really feel it. But if it’s dry down there … I don’t know if it could be any hotter than what it was here during training camp, so we’re prepared for that. I know that people want to say that, and coaches want to say that, ‘This team is in great shape,’ and everything else. We do a great job here. Steve [Saunders, head strength and conditioning coach] does a great job. ‘Harbs’ makes sure that we get plenty of reps. We work hard here, so we’re ready to go.”