Factors behind Ravens' declining pass rush
Despite escaping with a win against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Ravens are a team beset by issues. The main problem on the defensive side of the ball is a lack of a pass rush; Baltimore isn’t close to replicating the consistent pressure it applied in 2014.
Starting with the factors beyond their control, Terrell Suggs’ injury is obviously a huge blow. Suggs finished 2014 as our fourth ranked outside linebacker (+21.6), grading positively in every category. He dropped down to ninth for his pass rushing alone (+12.8), recording 14 sacks, 11 hits, and 32 hurries. That’s not elite productivity—Suggs was only our 16th ranked outside linebacker in pass rush productivity (PRP)—but he was at least good in that department last season.
Suggs going down has forced Elvis Dumervil into an every down role. After taking the field for 56.5 percent of snaps in 2014, Dumervil has been on the field for 81.9 percent of snaps this season. An increase in playing time has resulted in diminished productivity. After finishing as our fifth-ranked outside linebacker in PRP in 2014 with 19 sacks, nine hits, and 27 hurries, Dumervil is down to 15th so far through three weeks in 2015. So far, he has two sacks, two hits and 10 hurries, with his only dominant performance coming against Andre Smith and the Bengals. Dumervil wasn’t as effective of a pass rusher prior to taking on his his specialist role in Baltimore, suggesting increased playing time might be behind his slow start.
The other key loss for the Ravens came in the offseason, when Pernell McPhee departed for Chicago. McPhee was amongst the most dominant pass rushers in 2014, recording the second-highest pass rush productivity ranking, ahead of both his teammates. He recorded eight sacks, 21 hits (league high) and 35 hurries in a breakout season. McPhee has continued his fine form since moving to Chicago in free agency, and currently ranks first in PRP with two sacks, five hits, and 11 hurries.
Diminished interior pressure due to the departure of Haloti Ngata has also played its part, but the main reason for the Ravens’ defensive struggles has been a lack of edge pressure. The loss of Suggs and McPhee, and the corresponding impact on Dumervil, has blunted a pass rush that ranked No. 1 in 2014.