Jason Pierre-Paul turned back the clock and showed Sunday night why he could be the answer for the team’s depth issues at outside linebacker.
Throughout much of the Ravens’ 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the 33-year-old displayed the same game-changing traits that made him a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league.
Pierre-Paul made his presence felt quickly, pushing past a Bengals offensive lineman to sack Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow on a third-and-12 midway through the first quarter to increase his career sack total to 921/2, which ranks 10th among active players.
“[Pierre-Paul] was flying around like a [veteran], making the plays he’s supposed to make,” said second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, who combined with Pierre-Paul for a tackle for loss two plays before his sack.
In Baltimore’s third victory of the season, Pierre-Paul didn’t look like the player who signed with the team less than two weeks earlier as he finished with two tackles, a sack and a pair of pass deflections on back-to-back dropbacks inside the final two minutes of the first half.
“He played great for a guy who barely knows the system,” said veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who had two quarterback hits. “For him to make his presence felt and make impact plays is special.”
Pierre-Paul, who signed a one-year deal with the Ravens, arrived in Baltimore last month at a crucial time.
Tyus Bowser, who had a career-best seven sacks and steadied an up-and-down linebacking corps last season, and second-round rookie David Ojabo are still recovering from torn Achilles tendons, while Steven Means suffered the same injury in the Week 2 loss against the Miami Dolphins. Vince Biegel, an offseason addition who’d impressed in training camp and likely would’ve made the 53-man roster, was lost for the year with an Achilles injury suffered during an early-August practice.
The Ravens had struggled to find production from the unit amid the injuries, as Oweh was seeing more double teams and veteran Justin Houston suffered a groin injury in the Week 3 win over the New England Patriots. Enter Pierre-Paul, a 13-year veteran who previously played for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was forced to learn Baltimore’s defense fast. Even after offseason shoulder surgery, Pierre-Paul was ready for the task.
“I was playing with only one shoulder last year,” Pierre-Paul, who had only 2 1/2 sacks In 12 games with the Buccaneers last year, said last month. “So, imagine playing with one shoulder as a defensive end. I did what I could do for the team and holding my own, but not having two shoulders is a big thing; can’t push, can’t grab, can’t snatch — but I can do all that now.”
Coach John Harbaugh said Pierre-Paul is “rounding into shape” and thinks he will continue to get better. The linebacker has started in the Ravens’ last two games, totaling six tackles and two quarterback hits. And his two pass deflections Sunday night were his 62nd and 63rd of his career, the most among active linebackers.
“That’s what I do, that’s my game,” Pierre-Paul said of the pass deflections. “If I don’t get there in time, I just put my hands up when the quarterback raises his arm.”
For a player that was sitting on his couch a few weeks ago, Campbell said Pierre-Paul has been surprising, adding: “I didn’t expect him to be this good so fast.”
Baltimore Ravens Insider
“[Pierre-Paul] is just like me. He’s got a lot of miles on his body, and [has] to push through all the stuff he’s dealing with physically,” the 36-year-old Campbell said. “For him to have an impact like that is unheard of.”
Campbell also noted the two-time Super Bowl champion has brought with him his veteran leadership and is playing a “big role” by instilling confidence in other players.
“When he says something, you listen,” Campbell said. “He helps all the young guys out.”
Oweh has appreciated the knowledge he has received from Pierre-Paul and Houston. While Houston focuses more on technique and savviness, Oweh said Pierre-Paul isn’t afraid to run through a player to make a play.
“[Pierre-Paul] plays with a ‘[don’t] care’ mentality,” Oweh said. “He’s just being a football player and making the most aggressive play.”
With injuries continuing to mount on the defense — safety Marcus Williams is expected to miss “a significant amount of time” with a dislocated wrist, Harbaugh said — the Ravens hope Pierre-Paul can continue his recent playmaking ways.