Baltimore Ravens

Ravens defense searching for ways to revive suddenly dormant pass rush

Terrell Suggs knew why the question was being asked. How can you make the inconsistent pass rush more consistent?

"That's a shot, right?" replied the venerable Ravens outside linebacker who is the franchise's all-time leader in sacks with 117½. "That's like a direct shot, right?"


The response drew laughs, but there has been little mirth among defensive players and coaches regarding the sudden drop-off in sacks and pressures in the team's past two games -- back-to-back losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In season-opening wins against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the unit amassed eight sacks and six additional quarterback hits while intercepting eight passes and allowing only 437 passing yards and one passing touchdown.


In the past two setbacks, the defense has produced one sack and nine additional quarterback hits while making one interception and surrendering 452 passing yards and five touchdown passes.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who rejected criticism about his unit after the 44-7 loss to Jacksonville in London on Sept. 24, had a simplified answer for how to hone the pass rush.

"I'm concerned because we've got to have the pass rush, but we just got to coach it better and play it better," he said Thursday. "That part of it is not something that somebody is really doing to us. I don't really have an answer for you. We've just got to coach it better and do it better."

The defense's sack numbers have been trending downward recently. Since the 2014 squad had 49 sacks, the team finished with 37 in 2015 and 31 in 2016. Last year, only six other defenses had fewer sacks.

So what has happened to the pass rush? The obvious answer is that the 34-year-old Suggs, who leads this year's squad in that department with three, is not as effective as he once was, and he has not gotten much support from a young corps of outside linebackers who were supposed to fill the void created by the departures of Pernell McPhee and Elvis Dumervil.

Starting strong-side linebacker Matthew Judon, who had four sacks a year ago, and rookie Tim Williams, who was selected in the third round of April's NFL draft after compiling 19½ in his junior and senior years at Alabama, are still searching for their first sacks. Za'Darius Smith and rookie Tyus Bowser have one sack each.

Smith, who finished last season with one sack after compiling 5½ as a rookie in 2015, said he understands that much is expected of the young pass rushers.

"Expectations are supposed to be high," he said. "They're supposed to be set high. That's how Coach wants it to be so that we can deliver. Once Sizz is gone, we're next. So he's got to put that pressure on us and we need that pressure as young guys."


Williams, who has played on only 24.1 percent of the defensive snaps thus far, said he and Bowser are eager to make significant contributions.

"We have a lot of plays to make, a lot of proving to do because we're not walking around here thinking that we know everything and stuff like that," he said. "We're willing to learn. It's a different pass-rush scheme in the NFL. So we're still learning and still improving every day."

Suggs defended his younger teammates, saying, "You have to understand, we are 2-2. Naturally, we lost the last two, so of course we are going to feel like we are 0-4. I don't think we are as terrible as you all are making us out to be, but we are definitely trying to get better. We are trying to get better every week. I think we are doing fine."

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider


Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

Another factor is opponents' run-pass ratio. Cincinnati and Cleveland combined to have 73 pass attempts compared to 43 rushes, which opened the door for the Ravens to attack the quarterbacks. Conversely, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh totaled 77 runs against 63 passes.

"We always pride ourselves on stopping the run and getting to third-down situations and pressuring the quarterback and disguising some things and stuff like that," middle linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We were able to do that the first two games, and we haven't really had the chance to do that in the last two – turnovers, sacks, or putting them in third-and-long situations. All of that falls on us. So we've just got to get back to the basics and play technique football and try to get coverage on the back end so that our rushers can rush."

On Sunday, the defense will face a quarterback in the Oakland Raiders' EJ Manuel who is not as gifted as usual starter Derek Carr but is just as mobile. That could translate into more scrambling and fewer sacks.


If the sack numbers do not improve this weekend, Smith predicted that they will soon.

"Sacks are going to come when they come," he said. "Some guys look at it as, if you're not getting any sacks, you're not getting any pressure on the quarterback. You could have the best rush ever, but the timing of the coverage might not be there and you never know. So I'm going to say that the sacks are going to come when they come. They come in bunches, too. So watch out for that."