In fact, I believe the Ravens will continue to rank as one of NFL's elite units.
Here are three reasons why:
As much as Suggs has been lauded as the top defender in the NFL, Ngata is the most disruptive player on the Ravens' defensive front. The Pro Bowler is unquestionably the top interior defender in the game. His ability to single-handedly take over games makes life easier for his teammates -- Suggs included.
At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Ngata is a mountain of a man with extraordinary strength, power and athleticism. He mauls blockers at the point of attack and routinely blows through double-teams to create penetration up the middle and negate inside runs, while also pressing the pocket against the pass. Ngata's underrated quickness and agility also allows him to defeat blockers with arm-overs and spin moves, making him nearly impossible to block on the interior.
From a schematic standpoint, the Ravens take advantage of Ngata's versatile skill set by aligning him in various spots along the line. He will line up anywhere from the one-technique (outside shade of the center) to the five-technique (outside shade of the offensive tackle) to exploit a favorable match up. In addition, the Ravens routinely incorporate him into stunts and twists to put opponents in a quandary deciding how to pass off defenders in pass protection. If blockers spend too much time with Ngata on his upfield move, a looping rusher comes free on the inside for an unimpeded sack. If opponents bypass Ngata on the outside loop in anticipation of the inside rusher, he simply splits the crack and walks into an easy quarterback sack. This video clip clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the Ravens' twist game with Ngata.
With Ngata attracting so much attention on the interior, the rest of the Ravens' front line is assured of isolated matchups on most downs. This allows them to aggressively get after the passer without fear of another blocker impeding their progress on a double-team or chip block. In a league where most rushers are capable of winning the majority of one-on-one battles, the presence of a destructive force on the interior will lead to a bevy of sacks for the Ravens in 2012.
2) Pernell McPhee is not a household name, but could emerge as a star on Baltimore's defense.
A fifth-round pick in 2011, McPhee was not expected to be a major contributor in Year 1, yet he finished second on the team with six sacks as a rookie. McPhee displayed exceptional movement skills and thrived as an interior rusher in the Ravens' sub packages. He routinely defeated offensive guards with his remarkable first-step quickness and also collected sacks with relentless effort and pursuit.
With Suggs out of the lineup indefinitely, the Ravens will look to give McPhee more opportunities to get after the passer. They will continue to feature him prominently in nickel packages and explore getting him onto the field on early downs to take advantage of his disruptive skills. While the extended playing time threatens to wear him down, the potential benefits certainly outweigh the risks.
In looking at possible ways the Ravens might tap into McPhee's skills, I would expect to see more interior movement schemes to take advantage of his quickness. McPhee does a fantastic job working the edges of blockers, so slanting into gaps is a strong possibility. The Ravens will also bring more five- and six-man pressures directed at the A- and B-gaps to free up McPhee on the interior. The presence of the blitz forces offenses to alter their protection schemes, leaving McPhee to feast off isolated matchups. Given his speed, quickness and relentlessness, the one-on-one battles could yield big results for the Ravens.
The Ravens' mantra has always been "next man up," but the daunting task of filling Suggs' role will be split among three promising young players. I believe in the collective potential of the Ravens' neophytes -- this trio can minimize the loss in production.
Kruger, a third-year pro, started to come on like gangbusters last season. He tallied 5.5 sacks and finally displayed the quickness, athleticism and burst to consistently harass quarterbacks off the edge. He also showed the ability to sequence a series of rush moves to defeat offensive tackles in one-on-one battles. Kruger's ability to create disruption off the edge accentuated the Ravens' sub packages and provided the defense with another option in pass-rush situations. While some of Kruger's production can certainly be attributed to the presence of Suggs on the opposite side, the creativity of the Ravens' scheme and attention directed to Ngata will continue to create opportunities for him to win off the edges.
Upshaw, the Ravens' top pick in last month's draft, will immediately join the rotation as a possible starter. The second-rounder played as a rush linebacker in Alabama's 3-4 defense and his familiarity with the position could allow him to seamlessly transition to his new role as a pro. Upshaw is a workmanlike rusher with excellent strength and power. Although he is not an explosive athlete, he flashes burst and acceleration from the backside and could be a factor quickly as a first-year starter.
Kindle is the wild card of the rotation. He has yet to be a factor on the field after suffering a devastating injury off the field two years ago, but he certainly possesses the speed, quickness and athleticism to be a disruptive player off the edge. As a standout defender at Texas, he routinely blew past blockers with his initial burst and displayed a knack for getting to the quarterback from the blind side. If he can regain some of the skills that prompted the Ravens to take him with the 43rd pick of the 2010 draft, Kindle could be the one of the key ingredients that helps the defense thrive in the absence of Suggs.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks