No one would’ve criticized Baltimore for standing pat on defense before the trade deadline this year. The Ravens rank among the stingiest and most pressure-inducing defenses in the league, allowing the fewest points per game (17.3) and ranking second in the NFL in sacks (22).
But like his blitz-happy defense, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta went on the attack to deliver another playmaker that should turn a really good defense into a great one.
Acquiring Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings during the Ravens’ bye provides the much sought-after quarterback-harassing bookend to pair with Matthew Judon. Like most of the Ravens’ recent trades, it didn’t come at a great expense. Baltimore will send a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Vikings for Ngakoue, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
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In return, the Ravens received a playmaking pass-rusher in his prime. Ngakoue, 25, has totaled 42.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and two touchdowns.
The only other player to record over 40 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and multiple defensive touchdowns since 2016? Khalil Mack.
Now the Ravens head into a stretch where they can alter the balance of power in the AFC — they play the Steelers (twice) and the Titans in November — with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and a championship-caliber defense. Baltimore has Ngakoue and Judon crashing the edges, middle linebacker Patrick Queen running sideline to sideline, Marcus Peters picking off passes and Marlon Humphrey punching out footballs to create turnovers.
The Ravens have tried for years to get a pass-rusher like Ngakoue because they’ve struggled to get to quarterbacks without blitzing. Since the start of 2019, Baltimore has produced the fewest sacks (18) in the NFL when rushing four or fewer defenders. Baltimore ranks behind only the Steelers in sacks this season, but the Ravens have gotten more sacks from their secondary (eight) than their outside linebackers (seven).
Not only will Ngakoue help the Ravens ratchet up the heat on Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill over the next month, but it’s a move that can help them when it matters the most. The blueprint for beating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs — which the Ravens have failed to do in three tries — is getting to him with a four-man rush and dropping everyone else into coverage.
Baltimore still is going to blitz as long as Don “Wink” Martindale is its defensive coordinator, but there won’t be a need to do it as much. Quarterbacks often knew the Ravens would be blitzing but didn’t know exactly where the pressure was coming from. Now it will be an even bigger guessing game as to whether Baltimore is sending four, five or six defenders.
If there is a concern, it’s how a 246-pound Ngakoue holds up against the run and how he can consistently beat blockers. Even though he is tied for fourth in the NFL with five sacks, his 11% pass-rush win rate as an edge player ranks 32nd out of 47 qualifiers this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
What should help Ngakoue is that he’ll have more time to get to the quarterback with the Ravens because Baltimore’s cornerbacks are significantly better than the young ones with the Vikings, who were struggling mightily. Some of Ngakoue’s best seasons in Jacksonville came when he played along with cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. He’ll have a similar-caliber duo in Baltimore with Humphrey and Peters.
The move for Ngakoue closes out the Ravens’ long pursuit for a difference-making pass-rusher. After losing Terrell Suggs in free agency last year, Baltimore lacked the cap space to sign Justin Houston that offseason. This year, the Ravens talked to the Jaguars about a trade for Ngakoue (before he eventually went to the Vikings) and tried to work around a tight salary-cap situation by arranging a sign-and-trade to get Jadeveon Clowney before this season.
The Ngakoue move is the Ravens’ third major trade on defense over the last year. A year ago, Peters was acquired from the Rams for a fifth-round pick and linebacker Kenny Young. In March, defensive end Calais Campbell was added from the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick.
These are all high-priced acquisitions the Ravens can and should make with Jackson on his inexpensive rookie deal. This loaded defense should also help Jackson and the Ravens’ offense as they look to rediscover their identity this season.
Ngakoue will lighten the pressure on Jackson and put even more on opposing quarterbacks.