The central traits of the Ravens' revamped defense were on display to a degree during a preseason win Thursday night over the Atlanta Falcons when outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil repeatedly hit and hurried quarterback Matt Ryan.
With the Ravens following the preseason routine of scaling down their arsenal of blitz packages until the regular season during the 27-23 victory, they were unable to prevent Ryan from connecting with wide receiver Julio Jones for a touchdown pass against overmatched cornerback Jimmy Smith.
In preseason games and training camp practices, though, it's become evident that the Ravens' plan to attack quarterbacks involves a fair amount of complexity based on disguise, positional flexibility and exploiting the talents of a diverse group of pass rushers.
Beyond having bookend Pro Bowl outside linebackers in Terrell Suggs and Dumervil operating out of both two-point and three-point stances as hybrid edge rushers, the Ravens' defensive linemen all have a strong background at getting to the quarterback.
"It's crazy because you can't just focus on one guy pass rushing, doesn't matter if we're blitzing or our defensive line is coming after you," backup rush linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "Quarterbacks better watch out."
A year ago, the Ravens' pass rush languished. Production fell to 37 sacks as Suggs had a career-low two sacks while dealing with Achilles tendon and biceps injuries.
With a healthy, fitter Suggs, the Ravens' franchise leader with 84.5 career sacks, signing Dumervil to a $35 million contract following a fax debacle that led to his exit from the Denver Broncos and the addition of versatile defensive tackle Chris Canty, the Ravens have a growing confidence they'll upgrade their pass rush this fall.
Because Canty can play defensive tackle or end, a similar ability by starting left defensive end Arthur Jones, and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata disrupting the middle at nose tackle, the Ravens could provide a huge challenge to blocking schemes.
"There's a lot of different things guys bring to the table with people having different skill sets," said Canty, an athletic 6-foot-7, 317-pound former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys starter who has 19 career sacks. "We can work together and blend this into something really good. We have speed guys and guys who rush with power. That only bodes well for us. We just have to understand our roles and how we fit into the grand scheme.
"It's definitely something we talk about a lot, about how we want to generate pressure. We can put teams in downs and distances where you can rush the passer. We understand the importance of being stout against the run. At the same time, we absolutely want to rush the passer when it's time."
Because Dumervil has played both defensive end and outside linebacker, the Ravens can stack him behind or next to a defensive end, loop him inside or have him put his hand down to get after the quarterback. Finding Dumervil's No. 58 jersey before the snap could become a preoccupation for quarterbacks.
The Ravens have several alignments in which they've used strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw, a run-stopper, on early downs and then brought in Dumervil on third down to chase the quarterback.
"Elvis is all over the place," Canty said. "Elvis is in the building."
Dumervil has 63.5 career sacks, including 19.5 in the past two seasons in Denver, where he worked in tandem with speedy Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller. With the Ravens, Dumervil is looking forward to a multifaceted role.
"We've got so many rushers, so many guys that can get in there," Dumervil said. "It's fun, it's a blessing. Whatever my role is, we're going to be versatile for sure. We've got a lot of moving parts, and the guys are smart and buying into the defense. I think we could have a great year."
At 5-foot-11, 260 pounds, Dumervil has strength and speed working to his advantage and unusually long arms for a shorter pass rusher. Dumervil typically has the edge of leverage instantly because of his stocky build, shoving offensive tackles around with a heavy-handed punch to their chests.
"I don't see how people are going to block Dumervil and Suggs, but also the rest of the people the Ravens can throw at you," former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said. "Let's say you square up with Suggs or Dumervil with chip-blocking and you get them blocked.
"Well, you just paid all that attention to them. Great, but who's blocking Ngata? Who's blocking Canty? I think this could be a formidable defense once they all get used to playing together. It should be fun to watch."
Midway through the preseason, the Ravens have generated three sacks, five quarterback hits and 21 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Outside linebackers Adrian Hamilton and John Simon and Canty have all recorded one sack apiece this preseason.
For defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the presence of so many pass rushers could give him the chance to devise imaginative blitz packages and line stunts. He also can rest players and have fresh legs for his substitution patterns.
"I feel good about that whole group," Pees said. "Hopefully, we'll find as we package things we can get guys on the field in the right situations and have a good pass rush. I'm very pleased right now with the speed of the things that we're running when we're running the pressures. We've just got to make sure we're communicating well and not turning anybody loose.
"I think we got a lot of competition, which is good for us as coaches. It not only makes everybody work hard to keep their job, but when you have a lot of competition, that means you can also play a lot of guys. If you can play a lot of guys, you can spell them. A guy maybe doesn't have to play 65 snaps in a game. Maybe he can play 45 [snaps] and be a little fresher at the end of the game."
Practices have often been difficult for the Ravens' offense because they haven't given quarterback Joe Flacco enough time to identify his targets downfield with the front seven forcing him to throw it before the routes develop.
It's a problem that veteran Ravens fullback Vonta Leach expects opposing offenses to struggle with this season.
"We've got edge guys you have to account for, but, if you put a back or two linemen on them, it opens up the middle," Leach said. "We've got good pass rushers in the middle like Haloti and Canty. That puts a lot of stress on an offensive line and the fullbacks and backs. It's a challenge for us in practice, so it will be a
challenge for a lot of people in the league. It's going to create a lot of problems."
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