Getting more from the pass rush is the priority for new Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald. He’s taken charge of a unit that registered just 34 sacks last season, primarily due to the lack of standout rushers on the edges of the front seven.
MacDonald’s hopes of making life more uncomfortable for quarterbacks this year will hinge on the health of several young players. They include rookie second-round pick David Ojabo, who tore his Achilles back in March.
So did Tyus Bowser, last season’s sack leader, who has undergone surgery this offseason. He’s not the only Ravens edge-rusher who has spent time on the operating table, with Odafe Oweh having a procedure to repair a damaged shoulder.
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Oweh wants the team to bring back a veteran edge who played below expectations in 2021, but can still provide vital leadership. This veteran remains a free agent, but the Ravens have been encouraged by one NFL writer to negotiate a new deal.
100-Plus-Sack Edge Ideal for Ravens
Justin Houston didn’t exactly wow the Ravens last season, but Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay believes the 33-year-old is still a player this defense needs. Kay thinks a return “may make the most sense for both parties.”
For that to happen, the Ravens need to hope Houston doesn’t find a new home before July 22. That’s the deadline for the UFA tender Baltimore applied to the 11-year pro back in May, per ESPN’s Field Yates:
Kay says “Baltimore should be hoping” Houston is still available for a comeback with the Ravens. It would be a prudent way to add some certainty to the edge-rush options at MacDonald’s disposal.
Houston’s knows the team and the basics of the system, although MacDonald’s predecessor, Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, often called a blitz-heavy defense. Houston didn’t thrive in the scheme, logging just 4.5 sacks.
It was the second year running Houston’s sack totals fell. He’s got 102 sacks to his credit, but Houston’s last season with double-digit QB takedowns came in 2019, when he recorded 11 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Houston’s time with the Ravens was marred by Martindale’s relentless blitzing in front of a banged up secondary. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both suffered long-term injuries, forcing the Ravens to play a more passive brand of coverage behind the pressure.
The combination often wasted some of Houston’s best rushes, like on this play against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, highlighted by Spencer N. Schultz of SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown:
Pressures like this one are why Houston has many ardent fans on the Ravens’ roster, despite his middling production. One of his keenest admirers is Oweh, who started just two games as a rookie in 2021, but still logged five sacks.
Oweh recently explained why Houston can still be an asset, per Kevin Oestreciher of Ravens Wire: “Justin Houston, he taught me a lot last year. Obviously, off the field and on the field. We can use all the help we can get. So, I’m cool with it.”
Re-upping Houston for another year wouldn’t cost the Ravens much, but there are other options still on the veteran market for general manager Eric DeCosta to consider.
Another FA Edge May Make More Sense
Both players fit the profile the Ravens want along the front seven. Namely, experienced, versatile and with a strong history of being productive.
It’s why DeCosta gave a deal to Houston a year ago. Maybe the Ravens will have better luck with a similar short-term signing.