Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has probably already called his agent and told him to break out the incentive clause in his contract on sacks.
The Ravens play the Indianapolis on Saturday and the Colts have already given up 53 sacks with two games remaining games in the regular season. Suggs and fellow outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith can’t wait.
But the month of January will bring concerns about the pass rush. If the Ravens win Saturday and then next Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, they will advance to the postseason.
Against playoff-caliber teams — the Ravens have already lost to the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars — the Ravens had only four of their 38 total sacks, three of which came against the Steelers on Dec. 10.
“Overall, I feel good about where we are at this point,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys on the roster, and they’re all athletic and play hard. It’s just about getting out there on the field and gaining more experience.”
The Ravens aren’t expected to get much of a challenge Saturday. The Colts leads the NFL in sacks allowed, followed by the Arizona Cardinals (49), Green Bay Packers (46) and Houston Texans (45).
So there should be a lot of choreographed dance steps and celebrations after sacks Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. After watching film, Pees said the sacks weren’t just the result of the Colts offensive line getting beat individually or failing to pick blitzes or deal with pressure.
“I think it’s a combination of a couple things,” Pees said. “They’ve had a lot of different guys in there at different times. They’ve had some injuries up front, which is never good in either line, but especially in the offensive line. I think that the cohesiveness there probably hasn’t been as good as they want it to be.
“The other thing is — it’s kind of an interesting stat — they’re one of the top teams in the league, as far as [not] turning the ball over. Jacoby Brissett hasn’t thrown a lot of interceptions. Part of that is, I think he holds on to it and doesn’t really want to make a bad throw. I think he’s been coached up a little bit to just not necessarily take a chance and to make a throw just to make a throw. Sometimes that can make you hold on to the ball a little longer, and that can create some sacks.”
The Ravens are fine with that philosophy. At times this season, the outside linebackers have dominated. Suggs, in his 15th season, has 11 sacks. Strong-side linebacker Matthew Judon, in his second season, has played well in a new position after being used strictly as a pass rusher a year ago.
Judon is fifth on the team with 54 tackles and has seven sacks. But after those two, there hasn’t been much consistency. Smith, a third-year player, has 18 tackles including 2½ sacks, but doesn’t close fast enough on quarterbacks.
The Ravens have two rookies in the rotation, but neither Tyus Bowser, a second-round draft pick out of Houston, nor Tim Williams, a third-rounder out of Alabama, has made much impact.
“With Za’Darius, he is always close or around the quarterback, but just shy of getting there,” Pees said. “Now, we have to find a way to catapult him to the next level of getting those sacks.
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“Judon has and continues to do a nice job for us. We ask him to do a lot. He is athletic, smart and sets the defense for us like [Jarret Johnson did]. He can set the edge or drop into coverage. He is versatile and we use him much like Pernell McPhee, putting him inside to rush or using certain stunts from that position.”
Bowser and Williams are performing like rookies with the usual ups and downs. They aren’t in the same class as former Ravens Peter Boulware and Suggs, who had immediate impacts in their first seasons.
Boulware was the No. 4 overall pick out of Florida State in 1997 and Suggs was the No. 10 overall selection out of Arizona State in 2003. Both were the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of The Year.
“Tyus is going to be really good. He is very athletic,” Pees said. “Tim has an explosive first step, but right now they are both thinking too much. At Alabama, it was just, ‘Go, get to the quarterback.’ Now we’re asking them to drop into coverage or set the edge. They are overthinking at times because they aren’t used to doing that stuff.
“You can’t just be a pass-rushing specialist anymore because everybody plays zone pressure and you just can’t send the same guys all the time. But I’m happy with those two, happy with our guys. We’re going to get better.”
They have to because teams like the Cleveland Browns and Colts won’t be on the schedule in January. Out go quarterbacks like Brissett and DeShone Kizer, and up step Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.
The sack dancing at that point could be limited.