Tue, 28 Sep 2021

What Mink Thinks: Justin Houston Is the Icing on the Cake

Baltimore Ravens
01 Aug 2021, 23:25 GMT+10

Ryan Mink

The Ravens defense would have been just fine without Justin Houston. But adding the 32-year-old veteran pass rusher to an already stellar unit is the icing on the cake.

Wink Martindale blitzes more than any defensive coordinator in the league. Last year, he brought extra heat 45.3 percent of the time, per Next Gen Stats. The Ravens got 39 sacks - ranking 14th in the league.

Baltimore still was second-best in points allowed (18.9) and seventh in yards allowed (329.8), so sacks certainly aren't everything. In May, Martindale called them "one of the most superficial rankings there is."

But where the Ravens can take the next step defensively is with more splash plays. They ranked 17th in the league in takeaways last season, despite Marlon Humphrey's "Fruit Punch" accounting for a league-high eight forced fumbles.

One great way to get more splash plays is with more quarterback pressure. Sacks are great, but pressure also leads to more interceptions. With a secondary as sticky as the Ravens', with the NFL's best ball-hawking cornerback in Marcus Peters lurking, Baltimore's defense should be more fearsome this year.

Martindale pointed to the speed at which quarterbacks are getting the ball out these days as evidence of the diminished value of top-flight pass rushers. He's right. Ben Roethlisberger's lightning-fast delivery can neutralize a blitz to some extent.

But some of the Ravens' chief AFC foes - Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo's Josh Allen - love to extend plays and make opponents pay when they don't get enough pressure. And they're still good enough, with enough weapons on the outside, to make teams pay for blitzing.

That's why, as we saw from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last year's Super Bowl, a ferocious rush that doesn't depend upon bringing extra men can slow down even the star quarterbacks - and the Ravens will face many of them this season.

Houston is the Ravens' most accomplished pass rusher since Terrell Suggs departed following the 2018 season, and his style is most reminiscent of No. 55 too.

Matthew Judon averaged seven sacks per year over his five seasons but didn't consistently beat one-on-one blocking in pass-rush situations. Ngakoue has been one of the NFL's top sack artists over his five seasons (45.5 sacks) but got just three in nine games in Baltimore.

Houston brings a power and speed component that will fit Baltimore's system well on the edge. He posted 19 sacks over the last two seasons, showing no signs of slowing down.

Now first-round pick Odafe Oweh doesn't have so much on his shoulders in Year 1. Of course, his development will still be accelerated as much as possible, but the Ravens won't be relying on the rookie to make an immediate big splash. Same goes with fifth-round pick Daelin Hayes. Both have looked good, particularly at the start of training camp, but it would have been a challenging Year 1 assignment had the Ravens not added Houston.

All summer, pundits have pointed to Baltimore's pass rush as the Super Bowl-contender's biggest weakness. Now opposing offensive coordinators are going to have trouble finding any.

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