After slow start, Ravens pass rush makes impact

Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata sack Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon.
Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata sack Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Following a five-sack performance Sunday that doubled the team's season sack total, the Ravens' expensive and mercurial pass rush was rightfully praised, and just as quickly deflected it.

The uptick in quarterback pressure over the last few games has been just as much the result of the talented pass rush as it has the coverage behind it, all of which is leading to a defense that's allowed the third-fewest points in the league through the first six games.


"It all works together for me," cornerback Lardarius Webb said of the rush in front of him. "The front seven is awesome, but they're getting there so quick it makes our job way easier, where they have to get the ball out quicker. When we started to tighten up our coverage, it gives them a little more time to get there, even though they're getting there fast anyway. It can go hand-in-hand."

Through the first three games of the season, only outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil managed to bring down the quarterback, and both of his sacks came in Week 2 against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Dumervil and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs combined for two sacks against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, and hybrid rusher Pernell McPhee picked up his first sack of the season in Week 5 at Indianapolis before last week's explosion.

"We want to get sacks," coach John Harbaugh said. "Sacks matter, it's lost yards. The guys work hard, and sacks are the measuring stick. ... Pressures, hits on the quarterbacks, forcing the ball to come out quick, that's all good, and we want to build on that — but we also want to get sacks, and it was good to see those guys do it."

Five sacks against a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team doesn't mean the pass rush is all of a sudden a strength. But the team has gotten impact performances from the pass rushes even without the sacks.

"I won't say it's a breakthrough," said Dumervil, who's tied for sixth in the league with five sacks. "I think we've been rushing pretty well all year. Sometimes, the numbers don't show [that]. But we just try to be effective, and the guys in the back helped us out."

Pro Football Focus, which grades player performances, has McPhee, Dumervil, and Suggs as the third, eighth, and 17th best pass-rushers among 3-4 outside linebackers through six weeks. No other team has three rushers ranked that high at the position, which speaks to the amount of nonsack impact the edge rushers are creating.

Still, plenty of factors have added to the pass rush's success in recent weeks. Teams now have to devote two linemen to second-year defensive tackle Brandon Williams, which makes one less blocker available to stick between the quarterback and the relentless foursome of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Suggs, McPhee, and Dumervil.

A running back often has to stay in to block those players, which frees up rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley to blitz late, as well.

The pass rushers almost universally credit the defensive backs for holding their coverage long enough to allow the pressure to hit home. Earlier in the season — especially during Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals — soft zone coverage underneath allowed passes before the rush reached the quarterback.

Now, with the secondary varying its coverage more and backs staying with receivers longer, the pass rush has more time to get home.

"It's just our [defensive backs] playing with more confidence, and they're playing in their pads in the past two games," McPhee said. "They're really challenging receivers and that's forcing the quarterback to hold the ball. When the quarterback holds the ball, you've got some good pass rushers … we get pressure on the quarterbacks."

"The big thing going into [the Tampa Bay] game was finally getting to the ball and for our [defensive backs] to hold their coverage just a little bit longer so our players can go out there and make sacks," Mosley said.

Like the Ravens, Atlanta has faced injuries on the offensive line this year, beginning with the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Sam Baker during the preseason. The Falcons currently have four offensive linemen on injured reserve, and could start their fourth different offensive line combination on Sunday against the Ravens, though quarterback Matt Ryan has only been sacked 10 times.


The team uses a lot of maximum-protection sets to give Ryan extra time to throw, with running backs and tight ends all providing help to the blockers.

Pees said that wouldn't change the Ravens' strategy much. Dumervil noted there were clear sets when outside rushers like himself can expect to be chipped by a back or tight end. McPhee said he expects a lot of help for the offensive line.

"We know that's what they're going to do," McPhee said, speaking with the confidence his unit has been playing with over the last several games. "If they don't, they're going to be some fools."

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