When Terrell Suggs tore his right Achilles tendon in the offseason, red flags about the Ravens pass rush were raised early and often.
But the early returns suggest that the defense isn’t suffering that badly. Through the first three games this season, the unit has recorded eight sacks and surrendered just two touchdowns through the air. Over the same span last year, the defense posted nine sacks and allowed two passing touchdowns.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said he’s not surprised by the numbers.
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“We never went away,” he said. “It’s pretty much common sense. There is a difference for the offense when they have to acknowledge T-Sizzle and they have to pay more attention to him, but now we have multiple guys that we can send at the quarterback and we can use them to our benefit.”
Those numbers would appear to validate the Ravens’ faith in their ability to pressure the quarterback without Suggs, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees declined to take the opportunity to gloat.
“I don’t think 'validated' is the word I would use,” he said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “It is what it is. I feel like the guys have worked hard at it. We’ve done some pressure, which has helped us a little bit, but I think most of our sacks don’t always come out of the pressure thing. I just feel like it is what it is. I don’t really feel like it’s a validation thing so much.”
The absence of Suggs, who had four of his 14 sacks in the first three contests, has been filled by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and Ellerbe, who lead the team with 2½ sacks each. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis and strong safety Bernard Pollard have one sack each, and defensive end Pernell McPhee and rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw split the last sack.
That, however, doesn’t mean that all is well with the pass defense. The first three opponents of 2012 completed 66.4 percent of their attempts, averaged 289.7 yards, threw just three interceptions, and have been hit 15 times. The first three quarterbacks of 2011 completed 59.1 percent of their passes, averaged 245.3 yards, tossed five interceptions, and were hit 19 times.
McPhee acknowledged that the defense still has some areas to refine.
“We’ve got a good rhythm, but we haven’t really been up where teams have to throw and then we can really show off our pass rush,” he said. “When we get up on teams and teams have to drop back and throw, that’s when you’ll really see the pass rush. We really haven’t been like that on a consistent basis where we can just go after a quarterback. We’ve just got to get better at getting them in second-and-long and third-and-long so that we can really show what kind of ability we’ve got to rush the passer.”
The Cleveland Browns, the Ravens’ opponent Thursday night, bring a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden, who has doubled his interception-to-touchdown ratio (6-to-3) and has been sacked eight times.
Coach Pat Shurmur said a point of emphasis for the Browns will be anticipating the Ravens’ pressure.
“It looks different,” Shurmur said of the Suggs-less pass rush. “I think everybody that watches them play would tell you that just because he’s a superstar in this league. But I think the guys that are playing in there as his replacement are doing a fine job.”