While Ravens players rested during the bye week ahead of their rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Nov. 1, Baltimore traded for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said trading for Ngakoue was a solid choice.
Mason, two-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro selection, knows the Ravens have a history of improving the defense on a steady basis. Even if they lose crucial veterans to retirement or trade, Baltimore figures out a way to bring in great players like Ngakoue.
The Ravens traded a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Ngakoue. Since joining the league in 2016, Ngakoue has built up an impressive resume with 42.5 career sacks, 117 solo tackles and 16 forced fumbles. Ngakoue, a Pro Bowl selection in 2017, gives the Ravens some new opportunities to rush the passer for the rest of the season.
“I think what they have done, and what they consistently do year in and year out, is they bolster their defense,” Mason said on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 23. “They lost some guys last year, but then they replace them. They go out and get one of the premier pass rushers just a few days ago. So what [John] Harbaugh and that coaching staff and the front office [are] trying to do is try to take the pressure off the offense. … I think them going out and getting Ngakoue was one of the better moves in the NFL within the last week.”
As for the offensive side of the ball, former Ravens head coach Brian Billick recognizes the team’s numbers are not as great as they were last season. In 2019, the Ravens finished the season first in the NFL in points scored, first in rushing yards and 27th in passing yards. So far this season, they sit eighth in points per game, first in rushing yards per game and 31st in passing yards per game.
Despite this, Billick still thinks quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offense are in good shape to go on a long playoff run.
“Last year’s numbers were off the charts, and so if that’s our benchmark for Lamar Jackson, OK, he measures up to this every year or we start poking holes in him. That’s a lot, because last year was pretty special,” Billick said on GCR Oct. 26. “So they’re still going to be fine. He might not be playing quite at [the level of] last year. He may pick it up in terms of what they’re doing.”
One of the things the Ravens need is another offensive weapon — another player Jackson can target knowing he will catch the ball consistently under pressure. The Ravens added veteran receiver Dez Bryant to the practice squad Oct. 27, but Mason believes a receiver closer to his prime would be a huge addition for the team.
“I think they need … another veteran guy that has proven himself in the league, a guy that can still play and get these high-end numbers,” Mason said. “That’ll help out the young guys and that’ll help out Lamar.”
Though the offense has struggled some this year, the special teams units have not. Punter Sam Koch played in his 230th game as a Raven against the Philadelphia Eagles Oct. 18, the most in team history. If any punter should be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it should be Koch, according to Billick.
Koch, 38, has been with the Ravens since he was drafted in 2006. He has started every game as their punter since then. The Ravens also have three-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker, who is arguably the best in the league at his position. Do observers fully appreciate the Ravens’ special teams units?
“No we don’t and we should,” Billick said. “The consistency through it all was the kicking game, the punting game — the fact that you cross that 35, it’s automatic points. That’s a huge part of the total dynamic.”
And with the Ravens now returning from their bye week, excitement is in the air with a matchup against the archrival Steelers looming.
“I think if most football purists broke it down to truly what is over the last 20 years — the best rivalry, sustained rivalry and most physical rivalry,” Billick said, “it would be Pittsburgh and Baltimore.”
For more from Billick, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Mason, listen to the full interview here:
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